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by Kumar David
Every decade or two something happens in China that shakes the world; Napoleon little knew that he was making the biggest understatement in modern history when he said of China:”There lies a sleeping giant. Let him sleep! For when he wakes, he will shake the world.” The Chinese Revolution crafted the PRC in 1949 and woke up the sleeping giant. In 1956 Mao suffered an un-Marxist lapse into utopia and launched the Great Leap Forward envisioning the country leap over centuries of history to industrial muscle and technical eminence in two decades. Instead economic collapse and famine belied these illusions with 20 to 30 million deaths; a great leap backwards.
He retreated for a decade but came storming back in the mid-1960s, red-book, dunce caps, Red Guards and Cultural Revolution, shredding the country, destroying education and universities, driving the Party to its wits end, imprisoning and all but murdering President Liu Shao Chi – “renegade, traitor, and scab” who was rehabilitated in 1980 as a “great Marxist and proletarian revolutionary”. Deng Zhio Ping was purged twice by the Gang of Four which included Mao protégés and his wife. The Go4 attempted to bury even Chou En Lai. Then senile, Mao died. That was in September 1976. Deng had a second second-coming in 1977 (outdoing Jesus by one, whose next coming, in any case, is still eagerly awaited).
Deng set China on a path that has shaken the world; “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”; “Socialist Market Economy”, what’s in a name. It’s a state led, party-hegemonic, non-capitalist society that has made dramatic use of markets, given birth to a wealthy capitalist class, created unimaginable wealth within four decades and all but abolished poverty. Non-capitalist China is on track to become the world’s largest economy. On the darkest of nights, the monkey does not lose its grip is a Tamil saying. Likewise the grip of non-capitalism slumbered for four decades but is now storming back; the Communist Party never lost its authoritarian grip even as the market engine flew.
If by capitalism, you mean what chaps like Adam Smith, David Ricardo and Alfred Marshal described long ago, or what Keynes, Friedman et al fought about in the Twentieth Century, or the way in which American finance, investment and business function, then most certainly that model is NOT how the pieces fit together in China. I have an old friend, let’s call him Senarath who rejected my insistence that China was not capitalist. His Marxism was superficial: “If it waddles like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck” he would say. Nope dear boy, its physiology functions like a duckbilled platypus, something of a different genre.
Is there a reason why I am making a fuss about these old political-taxonomic debates? Yes, China is once again at a watershed, it is transiting from a Deng-moment to a post-Deng moment. To personalise the tectonics, we had a Mao-phase then a Deng-phase and we are now opening the Xi-phase. The current convergence of a stream of factors is not coincidental, it is the return of a society with less-capitalist characteristics; a more managed system. The new Xi slogan is “Prosperity for all”; there is a crackdown on the freedom of the wild ass that Alibaba, Tencent, Ant Group and other tech-giants enjoyed for the decades when they flourished and accumulated tens of billions. Ant Group’s planned IPO in Hong Kong and New York last year would have been the largest IPO ever had it gone ahead, but it was pulled at the last minute on the orders of the government. The impish Jack Ma, Chairman of Alibaba disappeared from view, and other Chinese corporate bosses are lying low.
Just one example of China’s runaway capitalism is the property sector. There was an enormous boom fuelled by gigantic debts and the unquenchable thirst of the prospering middle classes for better accommodation. The bust has come! Evergrande, one of the largest is on the brink of bankruptcy; thousands are demonstrating across China demanding their money back; over one million prospective buyers who paid for flats in full in advance face ruin. The company’s gross debt is $300 billion (yes b for billion). The government will have to step in and carry the can like everywhere else where capitalism and markets thrive: ‘Privatise profits and socialise loses’.
These are not superficial changes, nor to do with personal tiffs. No, the Party is making it clear who is the boss and far more important Beijing is enacting a slew of new laws. They will include laws on personal data use, controlling overseas financing, corporate supervision of firms by state-agencies, and national security. Irrespective of whether the proposals are good or detrimental to business, one ambiguity is being unequivocally laid to rest, China is not a capitalist state in any ordinary sense of the term. There are, as is to be expected, red hotheads who have been heard to say that China is “returning to its revolutionary socialist roots”. This is ballyhoo! The state is simply asserting its position and making clear the primacy of the Party over society and the bourgeoisie.
There is admittedly a strong populist streak in all this in the context of rising anger among the majority. Despite improvement for all there is a widening wealth and income gap. And yes, Xi Jinping is playing a populist game ahead of next year’s Party Conference where he will try to secure a third term. Yes, corruption in state and Party have been reduced not wiped out. But these are side shows, the big drama centre stage is restructuring relations between state, society and new-rich capitalism. Regarding society there will be no let-up in authoritarianism, if anything the new control tools allow the state to more efficiently manage what it wants the people to hear, see and think.
The new control measures and crackdown on cultural content in the media and social-media, include:
* Schools will introduce Xi Jinping Thought in the curriculum
* ‘Vulgar influences’ in material offered by tech giants will be curtailed
* ‘Incorrect content’, ‘abnormal ethics’, ’chaotic cultures’ and ‘effeminate men’ will be excluded
* ‘Idol glorification” (megastars, rave pop idols) to be curbed for promoting low moral values
* Children’s access to video games will be limited to three hours per week
Liberals may approve of some of these measures though they would have preferred to see them introduced by suasion not state regulation. Other matters such as the first point will make liberals shudder and recall the previous version of thought indoctrination in the 1960s and 70s.
The crackdown on the $120 billion (yes billion) tutoring industry is illiberal. High quality tutoring is affordable only by well to do families and the highly motivated middle class. The attraction of academic elitism is centuries old, as old as Confucius himself and competition to enter the most prestigious universities is intense. House prices in the catchment vicinity of the best schools is way beyond the reach of 90 if not 95 percent.
But China appears to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There is a movement to discourage mass English teaching after decades of emphasis on English as a second language. One hears inane comments like “Learning English promotes cultural subordination to imperialism” and “What’s the use of English to China’s teeming millions?” Remember the bogus Sinhala-Buddhist nationalists of yore who deprived the millions of exposure to the world while dispatching their own progeny to universities in the West? Well the Chinese hot-heads are different, they are intellectually primitive ultra-radicals, not rich political opportunists. Nevertheless the grouse of the majority against the tuition industry has real roots and if the Party fails to manage it properly it will do harm to cultural modernisation and the advancement of the people.
About one trillion dollars in asset value of China’s tech giants has been wiped out in global stock markets since the crackdown on giant businesses started. Beijing is not playing a superficial game of tit-for-tat with disrespectful corporate bosses, nor indulging in old-fashioned cultural prudishness, nor merely indulging populist hypocrisy to build Xi Jinping’s image and prospects of a third term at November 2022 Party Conference. No, there is a more fundamental real-world process at play. It is about resolving tensions in the Party-State authoritarian social and economic structure, correcting the capitalist portion of economic activity, ordering market freedoms and disciplining the super-rich capitalist class.
The whip has been cracked and it has been made abundantly clear who is boss. This of course comes as a great surprise to Western ‘analysts’, businessmen and scholars who never understood that Chinese state was at root non-capitalist. (Only Lakshman Gunasekara understood at the time; he may not have agreed but he saw what I was getting at, when I developed this thesis in a 50 page – with discussions – paper at the Hector Abhayavardhana Felicitation Symposium 22 years ago in December 1999).
This is the point I am making again in this essay. We have entered a third period, after the Mao-phase and the Deng-phase, in the socio-economic evolution of the People’s Republic. It may go down as a Xi-phase, or if Xi is ousted from leadership the designation may be different, but a shift in the dynamic of the PRC has commenced not because anybody willed it, but because it was necessary. Why was it necessary? I see two reasons; first a course correction in the relationship between the Party-State and ‘capitalism with Chinese characteristics’ was overdue, and secondly the Sino-American Thucydides challenge required China to gird up its forces. I cannot touch on strategic aspects without straining my Editors patience; this piece is already longer than usual.
The whip has been cracked not only over China’s capitalists but Hong Kong’s moderately free electoral system. Independent HK trade unions which supported the so-called pan-democrats and student rioters in 2019 have also been brought to heel. The largest professional union, HK Professional Teachers Union, has been attacked as a “poisonous tumour”; it wound up. Medical staff and nurses who speak against Beijing are prosecuted on flimsy grounds and imprisoned. These changes are a reminder that authoritarianism is not what characterises Chinese polity but totalitarianism in the sense of unwillingness to share political space and power with others (Catholic Church, Fulan Gong, Uyghur Muslims, independent legislatures and trade unions). This makes the system total-litarian in the literal sense of this ugly verbal disjunction; no one will be allowed to threaten or dilute the Party’s monopoly of power. Hong Kong’s electoral laws have been amended make future legislatures appendages of Beijing. Blame for unfurling this backlash has of course to be squarely assigned to Hong Kong’s 2019 rioters whose arson and destruction of public property opened the door to intervention on this scale.
Chinese tech-giants though muscular in stock market and profit do not have the clout that establishing the global sting of outposts that the Belt and Road Initiative needs. That’s a task that is too big even for Chinese capitalist enterprises, it needs the direct leadership and muscle of the state. In the global contest with the Americans Chinese capitalism is no match for dominant American capitalism. The state entered the ring brushing aside relatively weak and unsophisticated Chinese capitalism and took control of the Belt & Road Megaproject. A rectification of state-class-Party relations was needed to underwrite this and is now in progress. Chinese courts are even asserting that disputes involving Chinese companies anywhere in the world shall be adjudicated in accordance with Chinese laws and the rulings of Chinese courts.
The inherent danger of immersion in the occult and propitiation of gods and mediums
Sri Lanka’s National Administrative System – Revisiting and Rationalising Towards Greater Efficiency
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By Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil
President – Chandi J. Associates Inc. Consulting, Canada
Founder & Administrator – Global Hospitality Forum
As a young child I virtually grew up on stage. My father was an award-winning playwright, stage producer, director and actor. His other artistic talents such as set and costume designing enhanced the overall quality of his productions. In 1956, his play ‘Janma Bhumi’ was chosen by the government to celebrate 2,500 years of recorded history of Sri Lanka, as a part of Buddha Jayanthi celebrations. With the opening of that play, he became the first-ever to use now famous Lumbini Theatre in Colombo. Growing up in a culturally rich environment meant frequent visits by our family to art galleries, theatres, cinemas and traditional cultural events. My parents also sent my elder sister and I to learn Kandyan dancing. I was lousy at it and gave it up after a few sessions.
During my Ceylon Hotel School (CHS) student years, my favourite show was the first ever solo concert by a Sri Lankan singer – Victor Ratnayake. His concert known as ‘Sa’ (the root or tonic note in the Indian music scale) was first performed in 1973. I saw ‘Sa’ four times over four decades. I had mixed feelings when Victor finally ended ‘Sa’ in the year 2012, with the 1,450th concert. For the final show he chose Lumbini Theater where the first ‘Sa’ was held 39 years before that.
I never had the privilege of talking with Victor, but had the opportunity to work with the other two greatest classical musicians in Sri Lanka – Amaradeva and Nanda Malini. They occasionally entertained the guests at the Hotel Ceysands, during the oriental food events which I organized. I was the Executive Chef and the Food & Beverage Manager of that hotel in late 1970s. Arranging such high caliber classical musicians to entertain tourists was not common in hotels in Sri Lanka.
I also equally enjoyed western music shows. Those days, we called these ‘Beat Shows’. In addition, my neighbourhood friends used to organize large scale road dances in Bambalapitiya Flats, which had a refreshingly diverse population. A few days ago, I tracked down a pioneer in western music shows in Sri Lanka, now living in USA – Kumar Navaratnam. Kumar used to organize popular beat shows in Colombo in late 1960s and early 1970s. When Kumar saw the iconic performances by Jimmy Hendrix, Carlos Santana, the Who etc. in a documentary film about Woodstock, Kumar was inspired to do something different in Colombo.
Previously having introduced rock and hard rock to Sri Lankan audiences, Kumar planned to organize something big. His ambition was to organize the first-ever Rock Festival from 6:00 pm to 6:00 am at the Havelock Park in Colombo, in the style of Woodstock. Once his friend, then turned rival, Gabo Peiris had the same idea. Eventually one week apart, there were two competing Rock Festivals organized by Gabo and Kumar held at the same venue. Most of my CHS batchmates went with me to both events. I wore a tie and dye tee shirt, a chain with a large peace sign and a pair of old torn jeans with the largest possible bell bottoms (36 inches!).
There were heavy rains during Gabo’s Rock Festival and that enhanced the ‘Woodstock’ type atmosphere and mood of the attendees. While the rock music continued nonstop, we danced in the rain and jumped into small puddles of mud, until dawn. When I asked Kumar last week if he has any photographs from his Rock Festival, he told me, “Machang, I was too drugged to remember or arrange any photos of that festival!” Kumar’s departure to USA at the height of his popularity in the 1970s created a void in the western music scene in Sri Lanka that lasted for some time. Those two festivals are yet to be matched by contemporary rock groups on the island. Kumar remains regarded as a pioneer of Sri Lankan Western music.
Meeting Mark Bostock
In 1973, as the Tournament Secretary, once again I led the organizing committee of the Nationalised Services Rugby Football Club’s annual tournament. I also played for the CHS seven-a-side team, which was one of the fourteen teams that competed for the prestigious trophy. CHS lost to the Bank of Ceylon, in the quarter finals. The chief guest for the tournament was an Englishman well-known in Sri Lanka as a sportsman and a business leader, Mr. Mark Bostock. He was the President of the Ceylon Rugby Football Union and the Chairman of the John Keells, the largest group of companies in Sri Lanka. We shook hands and spoke briefly. I felt that he was impressed with the organization of the tournament.
That brief introduction to Mr. Bostock led me to find employment with John Keells on two occasions during my mid-career in the hotel industry. At the age twenty-five I managed one of John Keells hotels, and befriended Mr. Bostock. He arranged for me to be trained in London with the largest British hotel company – Trust House Forte in the late 1970s. He was the attesting witness when I got married. In the mid-1980s, my family was invited to visit the Bostock family in their home in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England and stay overnight with them. We had a great time there. In later years his daughter Clare, who studied hospitality management in the UK, worked at Le Galadari Meridien Hotel, where I worked in mid-1980s.
In 1986, I arranged a small farewell to Mr. and Mrs. Mark Bostock, just before his retirement, in Habarana. At that time as the General Manager, I managed the two largest hotels built by John Keells, the Lodge and the Village, Habarana, as well as their farm and Keells food distribution in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka.
Towards the end of our second year at CHS, we were very busy organizing the second CHS Graduation Ball. With the experience gained in 1972, my batch had become more efficient at event planning and organizing. We raised more funds through souvenir advertisements and were able to secure the most prestigious and expensive venue in the country – the ballroom of the Hotel Ceylon Inter.Continential. The dance tickets were sold out quickly and the dance was an overall success in terms of attendance, profits as well as finding partners.
Scraping Coconuts at
Five of my batchmates and I were able to arrange well-sought after summer internships at one of the best-known multinational corporations operating in Sri Lanka. It was at Lever Brothers, fondly known to many generations of Sri Lankans as ‘The Sunlight Company’, since 1938. At this Anglo-Dutch corporation, Lever Brothers (now Uni-Lever), we were exposed to new employee orientations, training and development as well as, employee benefits. These standards were far superior to what the hotel industry was providing those days.
My main task was scraping coconuts and peeling sweet potatoes for meals of their 1,000 employees. As four meals a day (breakfast, lunch, dinner and mid-night meal) all included curries, they needed a large quantity of grated coconut and coconut milk. Having done the same function throughout the summer of 1973, I became an expert at coconut scraping using the motorized scraper at the Lever Brothers staff kitchen. That machine was my friend, whom I called, ‘NUTS’. We also had to do shift work. Morning and afternoon shifts were good. However, we disliked doing the night shift and delivering midnight snacks to different factories.
Although we worked as trainee staff cooks; we were given some extra benefits. We had our meals at the junior executive meal room. We were also given some excellent supervisory technique training with handouts developed in Europe. I also learnt for the first-time sales concepts, public relations and union relations. At one of our training sessions, the Personnel Manager, asked us, “What is the best for management – negotiating with one union or several unions?”. I quickly raised my hand and answered, “Several!” when the manager asked my rationale for the answer, I said, “Because with several unions, the management can divide and rule”. He disagreed and explained how the management could have better and mutually beneficial industrial relations by dealing with one union. We learnt a lot at Lever Brothers, in addition to scraping coconuts.
Meeting Stanley Jayawardena
During this seventh part-time job, I was fortunate to get an opportunity to briefly meet Mr. Stanley Jayawardena, who later became Unilever Sri Lanka’s first Sri Lankan Chairman. He told interesting and inspiring stories about his remarkable career. He had joined Lever Brothers as a Sales Manager in 1955 with little knowledge in sales. However, over the decades that he worked at Unilever, he became a highly respected Marketing Guru.
He played a dominant role in shaping the destiny of Unilever Sri Lanka. Nine years after this brief meeting, I learnt Marketing from this expert. In 1982 and 1983 I did an Executive Diploma in Business Administration at the University of Colombo and Mr. Stanley Jayawardena taught its Marketing course. He arranged the ex-Marketing people from Unilever Sri Lanka, such as Upali Mahanama, Sri Sangabo Corea to give us guest lectures. That inspired me to study Marketing further with the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) in UK and eventually become a graduate of the CIM.
Mastering the Concept of Marketing
The seeds of Marketing knowledge and practical tips in Marketing shared by Mr. Stanley Jayawardena, made a significant impact in my career. Most things I did in my mid-career in hospitality management – food festivals, stage productions, food and beverage operations, banqueting sales, were influenced by the basic principles of Marketing. Identifying the market segments and the customer needs and then satisfying those needs while making profits, is a simple, yet a powerful concept.
Having seen the benefit of Marketing knowledge in most things I did, I further studied and practiced Marketing. In the year 1990, I embarked in an MPhil/PhD in Hospitality Marketing at the University of Surrey, UK. Over the next 17 years as a full-time and part-time Visiting Professor/Senior Lecturer/Professor, I taught Marketing in 13 post-secondary educational institutions in eight countries (Schiller International University in UK, International Hotel School in Sri Lanka, Ceylon Hotel School, International Hotel Management Institute in Switzerland, Pegasus Hotel School in Guyana, University of Guyana, The University of the West Indies in Jamaica, Private Hotel School of Aruba, Mona School of Business in Jamaica, Ryerson University in Canada, Canadian School of Management, Ravens University in USA and Niagara College in Canada).
Thirty years after my first meeting with my Marketing Guru, I worked for the Canadian School of Management as their Senior Vice President in Market Development. Thank you for the insight and the inspiration, Mr. Stanley Jayawardena!
It is a certainty that most Buddhists of this country are moving away from the true Dhamma preached by the Buddha and elucidated by the vinaya following, learned monks of the Sangha. A boast is made that this country is the repository of pure Theravada Doctrine. Not so, I make bold to emphatically assert. If we follow the Buddha Word, handed down from his time at first orally and then in writing, our temples would not accommodate grottos for the veneration of the Hindu Pantheon of Gods Shiva and Ganesha, and Goddess Sarasvati, and Kali, now gaining popularity. People would not flock to Kataragama and pay obeisance with pooja vatti, and bargaining offering gold and silver statues and cash bribes at the Kovil, to fulfill desires expressed. Veneration of ancient Kiri Vehera comes later, almost as an afterthought to such ‘Buddhists’.
‘Koti valige’ clinging VVIPs
Significant and needing change is the fact of our political leaders laying such store on deities and consequently elevating mediums to guider-status of even government policy. Two examples: charmed water pots thrown by the ex Minister of Health and other Ministers of State as reportedly advised by the PM’s mystic guide Eliyantha White. Later, worse damage was done by the same Health Minister and Speaker of Parliament imbibing a paniya concocted by a scheming carpenter turned medium of Goddess Kali, as a preventive and cure for Covid 19 infection. I need not mention the resultant harm and spread of infection by crowds wanting the paniya. Neither do I need to remind you of the tale told that the PM of the 2010 – 14 SLFP government dissolved his government and called for premature elections, as advised by his astrologer. He continues clutching his good luck talisman – blessed by which deity we do not know. Prez Premadasa observed rites such as sitting only on his charmed seat that, we heard rightly or wrongly, accompanied him when he went for meetings. In spite of such belief in gods and mantras and the millions of jasmine trays offered by him at temples, he finally went up in bomb smoke.
Those of us who profess to be life-guided by Buddhism and pay scant respect to rites and rituals as extraneous, are scared by the trends that seem to be gaining popularity. We were a laughing stock to the world after the pot and pani fiascos. The worse fear is that policy decisions could be dictated to by mediums, who usually are charlatans.
Delineations and definitions are apt here. What I refer to is astrology and a branch of it: directions of a person’s actions according to prescribed times, planet paths etc, advised by a person claiming such superhuman/ mystical/phenomenal powers. Astrology per se passes muster – horoscope and palm reading and interpretation. The danger is when the far-fetched abstruse or arcane creep in with mysticism attached. Connected to this latter is voodoo, hoodoo, black and white magic. One could even accuse a person who claims to see much more than meets the human eye through divine power of being a sorcerer/sorceress. It means the supremacy of the occult over the ordinary and natural.
And who is Kali? She is outside the traditional Hindu Pantheon but very powerful. She is a black goddess whose name derives from the Sanskrit ‘kala’ – death or black. “Her origins are traced to the deities of the village, tribal and mountain cultures of South Asia. She makes her first major appearance in the Sanskrit ‘Devi Mahatmya’ (6th century BC) and her cult is associated with death; also sexuality, violence and paradoxically with motherly love.” She is said to be “the goddess of time, change, and destruction. She is the energy current inside a human that is wild, empowered and all loving.”
Those who get under the spell of such supernatural and/or astrological cults sink deeper and deeper for such a path or habit is a clinging to a koti valige – long endurance lulled by assurances of personal security and safety, but ending in disaster, calamity and finally death by fire and brimstone. Here it is the ego that is foremost; egotistical fears, needs equating to greed, and delusion; so very antithetical and inimical to the tenets of Buddhism.
Cases of the occult in history
Famous persons in the past have been led to disaster by soothsayers, astrologers and forecasters of the future, often expressing religiousness. The most infamous is the tragedy caused by Grigori Rasputin (1869-1916), a charlatan to beat all others. Able to stop the bleeding of hemophilic Alexei, heir to the Russian throne, he was completely favoured by the Tsarina. Obsessed by his pseudo-religiousness, she came under his spell, believing he could cure her son. Instead, this infamous man was one of the main causes of the downfall of Nicholas II and the Russian Empire. Stopping the bleeding of the young prince was adduced to his ability to hypnotize; he had no mystic powers, only misguided religious fanaticism.
More recently, Nancy Reagan, after the President escaped a shooting, sought supra mundane help and was directed to Joan Quigly, an astrologer, who became the First Lady’s prop in safeguarding Ronald. All his movements were subject to Nancy’s approval through Quigly’s advice after consulting the planets. Did it stave his succumbing to Alzheimer’s which he showed signs of even as Prez and prop Nancy’s social status?
Princess Diana relied on Debbie Frank whom she was introduced to in 1981. Did this woman with supposedly supra-human knowledge prevent the princess from her excessive holidaying and warn her of impending danger?
I sure must present my case in this antipathy towards dabbling in talismans, charms and such like. I am a firm believer in the efficacy of pirit chanting in times of illness and the prediction of a ‘bad time’ for a family member. Our politicians wear ragged bracelets of pirit threads, multicoloured to boot! A relative when very young, living overseas, always wanted a ‘pirit noodle’ around his wrist; picturesque nomenclature of his. I believe in horoscopes but never get my ola scroll ‘read’. Born and brought up in Kandy, we hardly ever indulged in the propitiation of the gods, even of the Hindu Pantheon, to whom devales were built just in front of the Dalada Maligawa – a concession to the Indian wives of the last kings of the Kandyan Kingdom. We were worshippers at the Dalada Maligawa and our local Halloluwa temple.
Hence at Kataragama, after marriage to a family which believed implicitly in gods and made frequent pilgrimages ‘down south’, I was a voiceless skeptic. Once I openly declared I would not enter the main devale and participate in the evening pooja. I felt one had to have 100% faith to follow the rituals, which I lacked. Result: a monkey from the edge of the roof of the devale urinated full on me! I am certain it was the god proving defiantly he had exceptional powers! I hasten to add I believe in the presence of the gods and their power; my point is I don’t bargain or propitiate them for favours. I grew more and more distant from rites and rituals and try to be a true follower of the Buddha’s Dhamma. However I do pay pooja to ‘bodhiyas’ in temples since devathavas reside in them and need merit transferred by humans to attain Nibbana. They do look down in favour on persons who are ‘silvath’ and may help divinely.
A person in Kandy, wanting to stop his son’s love relationship with a girl considered unsuitable, got a kattadiya – rare in Kandy then – to place a charm under the girl’s home doorstep. The charm boomeranged and the son was drowned. Evil charms like curses and cruel thoughts come back to roost.
Remember the three witches in Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’? Working on his ambition and moral weakness they led him on with promises given in quibbling language. A brave and strong soldier finally ended utterly tragic; his overriding ambition fanned by his wife and used distortedly by the witches caused him destruction, and under him of Scotland as depicted by Shakespearean and historian Holinshed yore.
It is positively dangerous to ardently believe in the occult and the ability to get favours from deities, using rapacious mediums. There is betrayal at the end. Let not our leaders be led in decision making that affects the country by consulting the occult or gods, through dangerous mediums.
Excerpted from the Memoirs of Chandra Wickremasinghe, Retd. Addl. Secy, to the President
I moved to the President’s Office as Additional Secretary to the President in February 1989. It was indeed a pleasure to work with my good friend KHJ Wijeyadasa who was as enthusiastic a workaholic as President Premadasa. Wije, was a proven, well seasoned administrator, who had shown his administrative ability as GA and in other responsible positions he had held in the public service. But his exceptional organizational prowess was brought out, I think, when the late PM Sirima Bandaranaike assigned him the daunting task of setting up the Land Reform Commission, vesting around one million acres of plantation lands in the State, virtually overnight. Wije, set about this enormous task with alacrity and had within a matter of months, taken over the entire extensive acreage and set up alternative managing Corporations/Boards, thereby ensuring a smooth transition from private to public ownership of all these broad acres across the island. He was at the helm of this gigantic undertaking till the advent of the new political dispensation in 1977.
I was privy to a memorable episode which I feel merits being fully recorded here, as it shows how high level decisions, affecting the history and the future of the country, are being made by certain Executive Presidents. I recollect vividly ,how President Premadasa strode into Wije’s room around 8.30 pm while the results of the 1989 General Elections were being announced. He sat at the head of the table with Mrs. Premadasa seated at the other end, with Wije, the late Gamini Iriyagolle(who was a close confidante of the President), Addnl. Secys. MBC de Silva, Neville Piyadigama and myself seated on either side.
President Premadasa then said “We will now appoint the Cabinet”. We hardly had time to recover from the shock when he said that he does not want to take over Defence as he dislikes getting involved in fighting wars. As I had been in the Defence Ministry, I knew the grave implications of the President not taking up the Defence portfolio and immediately pointed out that under the Constitution the President while being the Head of State and Head of the Govt. was also the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and it was mandatory for the Defence portfolio to be under him. With both Wije and Gamini endorsing what I said, President Premadasa agreed reluctantly to have the Defence portfolio and to leave the warring part in the hands of Ranjan Wijeratne.
It was in this manner that the entire Cabinet was selected by President Premadasa. I will limit myself here to recounting the manner in which two particularly surprising decisions he. When it came to the appointment of the Prime Minister, everyone’s expectation was that it would be Mr. Lalith Athulathmudali. All this was belied by President P, when he calmly said ” You know, our DB Wijetunge is very popular, no? He is liked even by people in the Opposition. Everyone speaks well of him. He is the best person for the job”.
Then again,when it came the selection of the Health Minister, President P. said with a straight face, (his very words) ” Renukata dang ingrisi hondata kathakaranna pulluwang ne. Mekata honda eya thamai”. President Premadasa had his own mind and made the selections of individual Ministers for the new Cabinet, exactly as he wanted them to be placed. After selecting the Ministers to head the new Cabinet portfolios, the President directed ,Wije , MBC, Neville and myself to immediately get down to the business of assigning subjects and functions to the newly created Ministries, with Nalin Abeysekera, the Legal Draftsman, assisting us in this exercise. The five of us had to literally work round the clock for two full days to make doubly sure that there were no overlaps of these subjects spilling them over into other Ministries, with related subjects. This was no easy task as the subjects and functions assigned to a particular Ministry, had to be determined, making them into a perfectly integrated whole. Wije had to constantly consult the President whenever certain doubts arose in making these allocations.
During his tenure in office as President, the Presidential Secretariat became the hub of administrative governance. Each Additional Secretary had to oversee six Cabinet Ministries. No Minister could submit a Cabinet paper on any important project without first obtaining clearance from the President. Each Additional Secretary had to study the Cabinet papers relating to the Ministries he was overseeing and submit them with appropriate recommendations to the President via Secretary/President. This only meant that in effect the entire system of governance was highly centralized, with all important policy matters having to be first cleared by President Premadasa before they could be submitted to Cabinet. Although Secretary/President and the four Additional Secretaries to the President had to work at a cracking pace to keep up to the near impossible deadlines given by the President and the exacting efficiency levels expected by him, it was nevertheless a satisfying experience as we knew the impact we were having on policy making and implementation, at the highest level.
Furthermore, Additional Secretaries had to take turns to attend the weekly Cabinet Meetings and brief the President on the concerned Cabinet papers, whenever the need arose. I for one, and I am sure the other three colleagues of mine will concur with me in this, found it easy to work at the Presidential Secretariat as all the Secretaries to Ministries and other high level officials were only too eager to co-operate with us in getting things attended to expeditiously.
As is was overseeing the Ministry of Lands from the Presidential Secretariat, I was selected along with Secretary/Lands for a study tour of the United States in September 1991 on the “Establishment of Wild Life Trusts for Wild Life Conservation.
President Premadasa was a person of incredible verve and energy who brooked no opposition and who wanted the assignments given to Ministers and Officers done in double quick time. The expenditure aspect did not bother him overmuch, as long as the work was completed to his satisfaction. His pet projects were primarily, the ones carried over from his days as Minister of Housing and included the upgrading of sub-standard housing in the city, the construction of lower middle class and middle class flats in the city, rural housing, Gam Uudawa housing schemes, development of infrastructure facilities including rural roads and water supply projects etc.
Coming from lower middle class beginnings, on becoming President, Mr. Premadasa made the alleviation of poverty and the upliftment of the poor one of his abiding concerns. He was ambitious and had exceptional political acumen to match this overweening ambition. He also had in good measure, the rare knack of making the poor identify themselves with him to the extent of making them believe that any successes achieved by him were their successes as well! He did try his utmost, to improve the lot of the poor, the dispossessed and the deprived. He perceived the latent potential of the poor to move forward on their own, given the correct incentives. He combined State assistance with self –help inputs by the beneficiaries themselves, particularly in his rural housing programmes. This was to instill in the poor the virtue of self-reliance.
His Gam Udawa Exhibitions were often itinerant carnivals and florid extravaganza, which however enabled him to get closer to the rural masses while providing them entertainment of a kind rarely seen by people in rural areas. He even toyed with the idea of enlisting the support of the JVP and even of the LTTE to join him in his relentless endeavours to put the country on a course of rapid development rivaling the new Asian Tiger economies. These earnest efforts however turned out to be fruitless and abortive in the case of the JVP who were hell bent on pursuing its own destructive path of murder and mayhem in pursuit of the anachronistic ideological goals set out by them, for which folly, they paid a terrible price by having their youthful members ruthlessly decimated by a Govt. that had totally exhausted it’s patience with them. Despite the hopes of peace and the end of hostilities with the LTTE that President Premadasa had fondly entertained, the former had him assassinated with characteristic insouciance.
President Premadasa known for berating public servants for not living upto his expectations, strangely enough, never upbraided me although I may have failed occasionally to meet his exacting deadlines for completing assignments given to me. All Additional Secretaries had to keep a cracking pace to keep to the near impossible deadlines set by him. On many occasions Neville Piyadigama and I worked till the wee hours of the morning, writing his speeches to be delivered at meetings the next day. He always gave instructions for dinner to be supplied by Galadari Hotel, next door.
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