Opinion

Sharodia Durga Puja

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Durga puja is an important festival in the Shaktism tradition of Hinduism. As per Hindu scriptures, the festival marks the victory of goddess Durga in her battle against the shape-shifting asura, Mahishasura.

It is an annual Hindu event in South Asia that celebrates the adoration of the Hindu goddess Durga. In Bangladesh, it is celebrated broadly. It submits to all the six days of experiential as Mahalaya, Maha Ashtami, Maha Saptami, Shashthi, Maha Navami and Vijayadashami.

History says that the Durga puja has been famous since medieval times. It has urbanized and customized to the world as time approved. A substantial text exists around Durga in the Bengali language and its untimely shapes. The goddess Durga was not completely included into the Hindu pantheon mainly in Bengal. Early forms of Durga festivals were mostly private adoration in personal houses with the use of musical mechanisms such as the mandira, mridanga and smakhya.

Mantras are an essential part of Durga puja. These are accompanied by the musical beatings of the dhak and flowers. These make the environment of Durga puja. Singing of mantras in Sanskrit is a necessary part of the Durga Puja celebration. Durga Slokas commends Durga as a sign of all celestial forces. Along with the sloka, Durga is ubiquitous as the picture of power, aptitude, calm, wealth, ethics etc.

The whole procedure of the formation of the sculptures from the set of clay to the decoration is a holy process, overused by services and other rituals. The people of the Hindu religion are very pious to celebrate this day with respect.

Durga Puja is a public holiday in Bangladesh. It is a day off for the general population, and schools and most businesses are closed.

Bangladesh is a land of holy places and large religious festivals. The festival is a special occasion for Bengali Hindu families to come together from all over the country and celebrate with their relatives and communities.

The five days festival is celebrated with gaiety and grandeur in Bangladesh. Devotees of Goddess Durga offer prayers and seek blessings of the goddess. During the Puja, goddess Lakshmi, Saraswati as well as lord Ganesha and Kartikeya are also worshipped by devotees along with goddess Durga.

Durga calmly understands and counters the evil in order to achieve her solemn goals. Durga, in her various forms, appears as an independent deity in the Epics period of ancient India, that is the centuries around the start of the Common Era. From the medieval period up through present day, the Durga Puja has celebrated the goddess with performing arts and as a social event, while maintaining religious worship.

The festival begins on the first day with Mahalaya, marking Durga’s advent in her battle against evil. Swami Chinmayananda said, “Man, the imperfect, the bound, the sorrowful, has a thousand enemies within. He is riddled with negative thoughts fears, and yearnings. These are selfishness, jealousy, meanness, prejudice and hatred just to mention but a few. The Sadhak must get rid of these lawless villains within. With Mother Durga’s kripa, these destructive masters are to be annihilated. Invoke the Mother Terrible to help us annihilate within ourselves all negative forces; all weaknesses, – all littleness.”

The festival is an old tradition of Hinduism, though it is unclear how and in which century the festival began. Surviving manuscripts from the 14th century provide guidelines for Durga puja, while historical records suggest royalty and wealthy families were sponsoring major Durga Puja public festivities since at least the 16th century. The prominence of Durga Puja increased during the British Raj in its provinces of Bengal and Assam. In the contemporary era, the importance of Durga Puja is as much as a social festival as a religious one wherever it is observed.

This festival is the biggest festival of the Bengali Hindus and is celebrated with great fanfare in Bangladesh.

On each day of this festival, devotees offer flower worship (pushpanjali) and the priest conducts an aroti. At the end of these five days, the idols are immersed in water. As the devotees bid farewell to the Mother Goddess they softly say ‘Aaschebochoraabarhobe’ (We will celebrate your arrival again next year). Like Swami Sivananda, Hindus believe, “Durga (Devi) is synonymous with Shakti or the Divine Power that manifests, sustains and transforms the universe as the one unifying Force of Existence. ‘Shakti is the very possibility of the Absolute’s appearing as many, of God’s causing this universe.

God creates this world through Srishti-Shakti (creative power), preserves through Sthiti-Shakti (preservative power), and destroys through Samhara-Shakti (destructive power). Shakti and Shakta are one; the power and the one who possesses the power cannot be separated; God and Shakti are like fire and heat of fire.”

Even when skies turn to gray, we wishthat the Goddess will bless Hindus way; to give them strength to overcome it all; and achieve all their desires and goals.Let the divine blessings of the Goddess overflow in their life. Durga Puja is an auspicious Hindu festival celebrated across Bangladesh, India and bordering countries. People celebrate this day with great enthusiasm and zeal.

This wonderful spiritual festival, held annually in Bangladesh and elsewhere among the Hindu community in the world. The tenth day, also known as Dashami marks the Visarjan (immersion in water) of the idol with grand celebrations and processions.

Bangladesh Puja Udjapan Parishad and MahanagarSarbajanin Puja Committee have said, “We are respectful to all religions. We are giving the directives to maintain the sanctity of other religions.”

A week prior to the festival, the city gears up and can be seen wearing a look of eagerness and excitement as it prepares itself to welcome the Goddess home.A week before Navratri begins; the idols of Goddess Durga are being painted and made ready except for the eyes. On the occasion of Mahalaya, the Goddess is invited on earth with rituals and so on this day, the eyes are drawn on the idols in an auspicious ritual called ChokkuDaan. It is believed the Goddess descends to earth at the time of drawing the eyes on the idols.

On the sixth day of Navaratri i.e.,the first day of Durga Puja; the beautifully decorated idols are brought home or into magnificently decorated public pandals. The idol is then decorated with flowers, clothes, jewellery, red vermillion and various sweets are kept in front of the Goddess. The idol of the Goddess is accompanied by the idol of Lord Ganesh. Goddess Durga is considered to be Lord Shiva’s wife Parvati’s avatar and thus mother of Lord Ganesh.

The festival of Durga Puja is coloured with devotional zeal, mythological legends, detailed rituals, extravagant pandals and magnificent tableaus of the divine Mother Goddess and her children. The ten-day festivities of Durga Puja provide one and all with a chance to spread festive cheer and wish their loved one’s peace as well as prosperity. The nine different forms of the Goddess of Power, Durga or Shakti, as per the Hindu religion are worshipped during this time.

The last six days of the festival, namely, Mahalaya, Shashthi, Maha Saptami, Maha Ashtami, MahaNabami and Bijoya Dashami are celebrated with great pomp and show. The Durga Puja revelry is not limited to elaborate rituals, but extends to various cultural, music and dance performances given by armature as well as professional artists during this time.

On the final day of Vijayadashmi, the devotees bid teary-eyed farewell to the Goddess and her children as it is believed that they leave for their heavenly abode. Their idols are submerged in the water amidst the resonating sound of drums to symbolise their departure.

May this Durga Puja light up for Hindus in Bangladesh and elsewhere throughout the world!We wish that Goddess Durga empowers them with unmatched happiness, great success and good luck. To conclude, we wish to enunciate a few words of a famed poem: “Nil akashermegherbhela,Padma phulerpapri mela,Dhakertaalekasherkhela,Anandekatuksharadbela. Shubho Durga Puja.” A very Happy Durga Puja to all our brothers and sisters of Hindu community in Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, and across the world!

-The End –

What two Labour Women MP’s said at the “Labour Party Conference”?

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I quote the report by PA News Agency in today’s National Scot for my readers:

“Labour deputy leader Ms Rayner took aim at the Conservative prime ministers since 2010 during a joke-laden speech to close her party’s conference in Liverpool. In a bid to rally party members, Ms Rayner ran through the policy pledges made in recent days and insisted Labour would be “radical, responsible, realistic” in power.

“By contrast, she described Liz Truss’s new Government as a “ministry of all the talentless”, adding: “When I looked at the benches opposite last week, I thought the clowns had escaped the circus.

“On Mr Johnson, ousted from Number 10 after a series of scandals which included lockdown-busting events in Downing Street, Labour MP Ms Rayner said: “I do owe him one apology.

“I said he couldn’t organise a booze-up in a brewery. Turns out he could organise a booze-up pretty much anywhere, just a shame he couldn’t organise anything else.

“We’re a party with a serious plan, he had a plan for a serious party.

Taking the mickey

“I’ll miss one thing though. As inflation ran out of control, at least his jokes were one thing that got cheaper every week.“But the real problem wasn’t that his jokes were so cheap, it was that his mistakes were so expensive.

“He ended his time claiming he was forced from office by the ‘deep state’. The only deep state that forced him from office was the one he left our country in.

“Sorry conference, I had to use all my Boris lines now while he’s still remembered and while everyone knows who he is before he becomes a footnote of failure in the history books. “At least that’s what the new Prime Minister must be hoping for because he’ll be sat on the backbenches plotting his comeback, with a glint in his eye, thinking: ‘I wasn’t so bad after all was I?’

“What a sorry state of affairs.”

Ms Rayner earlier mocked Ms Truss for having “crashed the pork market”, a nod to the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for the sector when environment secretary.

She said of the Conservatives: “Tough on crime? They brought crime to Number 10. “Defenders of the free market? The market’s in free-fall. England’s green and pleasant land? Frack it. From the party of stability to causing earthquakes. From the party of business to a slap down from the IMF. From the party of serious government to the party of parties. “Liz Truss has even crashed the pork market. Now that is a disgrace. You’d think that snouts in the trough was the one thing they could manage.”

Labour’s conference concluded with renditions of The Red Flag and Jerusalem, with Ms Rayner and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer joining in” –unquote.

A hilarious event, it could happen only in England?

Whilst the above enthralled the Labour Conference at Liverpool, I call it another hilarious incident, that took place at a Fringe Labour Event entitled: “What’s next for Labour’s Agenda for Race,” on Monday 26 September 2022.

Ms RupaHaq, Labour M.P for Ealing Central and Acton, of Asian origin, while addressing this Fringe event was quoted by The Guardian, to have said,(about, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rt.Hon. Kwasi Kwarteng,) “he is superficial, he is a Blackman, but again he’s got more in common – he went to Eton.”

Ms Haq has since apologised direct to the Chancellor, but it has opened up a hornet’s nest. She has been suspended from the Labour Party Whip in the Commons.

Responding to the controversy, MP Haq is also reported to have told “The Guardian”: her comments were made while praising the recent ethnic diversity in Parliament. She is quoted to have commented: “Obviously, I know you can be brown and be a Tory – I’m not that stupid”.

We know there are occasions when coloured people become the scapegoat for racist remarks. Taking the mickey on native English is acceptable, but “taking the mickey, on others, is sacrosanct.”

What has happened to the British Pound?

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“Working people are paying the price of the Tory government’s casino economics. Labour will cut bills, create jobs and secure energy independence for Britain by 2030.”  ~ Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer in response to the chancellor’s mini-Budget.

When I came to Britain in 1966, the pound bought me US Dollars 2.40 and today it is at a record low against the Green Back, as early trading in markets in South East Asia, collapsed the Pound to $1.0327, the lowest since decimalisation in 1971. Luckily it regained ground to $1.07. What really happened after Black Friday? (23 September 2022).

Markets are volatile and naturally, they seem to have taken fright after what our new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rt. Hon. KwasiKwarteng stated at the weekend that he was ready to slash taxes even further, more than the £45 Billion cuts in his Mini Budget on Friday.

Speculation was growing that the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee might have to intervene with an emergency rate hike, sooner than expected.

Need I say, if Sterling Pound falls to parity with the US Dollar, it could trigger a rebellion among Tory backbenchers who could refuse to vote for the Government’s Finance Bill, or even submit letters of no confidence in PM Liz Truss, said the Daily Telegraph.

Labour Opposition at Party Conference in Liverpool

The Labour Party at its Annual Party Conference in Liverpool, with Parliament in recess, accused the Chancellor of “fanning the flames” of the crisis and calling the City’s regulator to investigate leaks in his Mini Budget.

Labour has challenged the “Growth Plan” in the Mini Budget. The fallout has given Labour a well-timed opportunity to lay out an alternative economic plan at its party Conference but does not want to divulge its plans, in advance of a General Election planned for 2024.

Can Labour win the next General Election?

After 12 years of Conservative Government, the public is asking this question. As it stands today according to a poll Labour is on course for a sizeable majority whenever the next General Election is called. It is increasing looking like a “Government-in-waiting,”  unless it spoils its chances.

Polls give it today a 12 point lead over the Conservatives, which would land them a comfortable Parliamentary majority, estimated at 56 seats.

What the Pound record low means for UK?

We know a consideration and delivery of measures announced in the Mini Budget will, however, create new opportunities for an innovative start-up and will help unlock private investment.

The Mini Budget announcement has envisaged an economic growth goal of 2.5 percent, before the next General election.

A Tory Grandee says the current crisis will pass. Some others have been scathing in their views. Still, others have urged colleagues to be patient and not panic.

In my view, it is like Boris, the British will always rise to the occasion, which is a trait I have learned in England.

In my view, a decrease in the wholesale price of gas will over winter make a big difference.

People cannot only be bought over with “tax cuts”?

Innovation is the mantra which is built up from a foundation of ideas and knowledge, which the Conservatives have acquired over the past 12 years in Government. This experience is priceless.

But at the same time, a weak Pound will no doubt fuel the cost of imports depending on the cost of living crisis. The Governor of the Bank of England has ruled out any emergency increase in the Bank Rate in the immediate future. That’s “cool” in the colloquial.

How the Conservatives want to play their cards when Parliament reopens will to a large extent determine the outcome of the crisis?

Energy Security and Zero Emission Target in India

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India presently imports around 80% of its crude oil requirement and around 50% of its natural gas requirements. As the domestic production of crude oil and natural gas are virtually stagnant and the domestic demand is increasing at around 7% per annum, India’s steadily increasing dependence on import of the vital energy source is a matter of high energy security concern.  This is particularly so since the price of crude oil and natural gas are considerably fluctuating/increasing in the global market due to geo-political factors, which are beyond the control of India.

 India has promised to achieve zero emission by the year 2070, which means that the level of emission has to start declining at a slow and steady rate from now onwards.

It is now well recognized that global emission is caused largely due to use of coal as fuel and   natural gas as fuel and feedstock. While burning of coal as fuel cause emission of global warming carbon dioxide gas and sulphur dioxide gas, the storage and transportation of natural gas cause methane emission.

India has to simultaneously tackle energy security issues and also has to reduce the emission level at same time. Is this possible in the present circumstances?  Are the strategies being adopted to tackle these two issues contradictory?

Limitation of the strategies:

The strategies for India to reduce emission and import dependence on crude oil consist of blending ethanol with petrol, promotion of electric vehicles, increase in renewable energy generation as well as promotion of hydrogen as fuel and feedstock.

In the case of renewable energy, a total of 144 GW capacity excluding hydro power has been installed as of June,2022. Besides, renewable energy projects of 60. 66 GW capacity are under various stage of implementation and 23.14 GW capacity are under bidding.  While the progress is laudable, the fact is that the impact of renewable energy project in reducing crude oil import dependence would not be significant, since renewable energy generation is seasonal and climate dependent and the capacity utilization of renewable energy project is only at around 20%.

In the case of electric vehicle, Government of India aims at ensuring that 30% of all new vehicles are electric by 2030. While good progress is being made and electric vehicles can reduce emission, it should not be nullified by using electric power for charging batteries if the power were to be generated by burning coal, which is a fossil fuel generating emission.  There is no way that the power requirement of electric vehicle would be completely provided by renewable energy in the foreseeable future.

Government of India has fixed 20% target to blend ethanol with petrol by 2025 and good progress are being made to boost ethanol production. However, this would make short supply of ethanol for other industrial purposes, as ethanol is an important feedstock for chemical industry. Further, it is estimated that 20% ethanol blending with petrol would result in 70 million tonne of greenhouse gas emission, due to physical transportation of 1016 crore litre of ethanol per year by trucks using petroleum fuel.

In the case of hydrogen energy, renewable hydrogen industry is still in development stage across the world. Impressive progress is being made in utilizing hydrogen abroad like hydrogen fuel based railway project costing Rs. 737 crore implemented in Germany. However, as of now, such hydrogen used is not   green hydrogen. In India too, hydrogen fuel cell vehicle plants have been announced including one at Chennai.  However, these projects would use blue hydrogen or grey hydrogen and not green hydrogen produced using renewable energy.

Obviously, the above strategies which are progressive, would be totally insufficient to reduce India’s import dependence of crude oil and natural gas to any significant level in the foreseeable future.

Dependence on coal:

While government of India is implementing the above strategies, it is also increasing the production of coal, which is a fossil fuel.

To increase the production of coal to around 1000 million tonne per annum from the present level of 700 million tonne per annum, Government of India has now auctioned 10 coal mines for commercial exploitation.

Obviously, boosting coal production and greater use of coal as fuel to reduce import dependence on crude oil, will cause emissions and obviously, this would nullify the   emission reduction strategies of Government of India.  This appears to be a contradictory policy.

Need for new strategies:

In recent months, when global crude oil price has steeply increased, Government of India somehow managed the situation by buying crude oil from Russia at a discounted price.  However, this strategy can essentially be a short-term measure.

In such circumstances, apart from the strategies adopted already, India has to think about more imaginative solutions which could be the following.

Promotion of algae crop and algae biofuel for which the requirements such as tropical conditions, availability of wasteland, requirement of sunshine and carbon dioxide etc. in India provide an ideal situation for promoting algae crop/biofuel.

India imports around 2.2 million tonne of methanol per annum, as India does not have competitively priced natural gas which is the feedstock for methanol production. Commercial plants are operating abroad for the production of methanol from municipal solid waste. India should have no hesitation in exploiting this methanol investment opportunity from municipal solid waste.

From methanol, dimethyl ether can be produced, which is an eco-friendly fuel that can replace petroleum-based LPG in a big way.

Further, it is necessary to boost domestic production of ethanol to meet increasing percentage of ethanol blending with petrol. For this, ethanol production from beet sugar should also be promoted in India in a big way as ethanol from beet sugar has even more advantages than ethanol from sugarcane as it is less water consumption.

Education for a living?

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The current western type of education was brought to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) by the American and later British missionaries who setup schools and colleges, particularly in the North and East and other parts of the island. Tamils benefitted from these educational charitable institutions, which catered to a well-rounded education, with emphasis on the spoken and written skills of the English Language, enabling students to sit for Cambridge Matriculation English examinations. Sinhalese and Tamils and became very fluent in the English spoken idiom, excelling in work opportunities both in Government service and private Enterprise. We were the best in the English Language in South Asia.

When Ceylon got its independence 74 years ago in 1948, as part of the Free School Education, the majority of governments which followed, every attempt was to encourage “swabasha” languages, Sinhala and Tamil. The architect of Free Education was the then Minister of Education, Hon. C.W.W. Kannagara, an ardent champion of, Anagarika Dharmapala, the first global Buddhist missionary. Anagarika was one of founding contributors of the then non-violent Buddhist nationalism and a leading figure in Sri Lankan independence.

Simultaneously, Swami Vivekananda promoted Tamil language schools, giving impetus for Swabasha education. It was originally not thought of as a replacement for the English system of education, but soon became a channel of new thinking in education, after independence.

All Schools were nationalised in 1961 and education was politicised. To cope with the cry for more nationalism, the Government of Prime Minister, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike brought in “the policy of Standardisation” in 1977, to limit the Tamil students entering universities in Peradeniya and later Colombo.

Fast forward to 2022 – Education has become the bone of contention for jobs

All students Sinhala and Tamil were to compete for an educational qualification in the “swabasha” to obtain jobs. English learning was downgraded as a “colonial legacy”?

The “lingua franca” – the language of the world commence – English was classed as a second language. The ability to use English in schools, both in verbal communication, the spoken and the written language, was further abandoned.

Then came the fallacy of swabasha up to secondary education and English medium for University Classes.

With the Government nationalised education, payment of Teachers’ salaries together with other ancillary staff and the maintenance of all government schools was politicised. The Ministry of Education and Examinations Office conducted three public streams of education. They were University Entrance and Scholarship Exams, and “O” Ordinary Level, “A” Advanced Level exams.

Educational Scholarship

With this development passing of examinations was “the be-all and end all” of education. Accompaniment to this form of knowledge was the “Cram Shops” or Tuition Centres which mushroomed, not only in Tamil but also in Sinhala School areas.

This system of “fattening students for the market” was to cater for jobs. Tuition in students’ weak subjects was big business all over Sri Lanka.

The School Curriculums were geared to supplementary education, which was to be provided by paid education at all Tuition Centres in and around the country. Tuition was not only part and parcel of learning, but compulsory form of education in Sri Lanka.

Students from a very early age were weaned on Tuition. Government-employed Teachers in Schools around the country had a lucrative after-school hours assignment, coaching their own students at Tuition Centres. Students were taught the rudiments of education in school class time and literally nurtured to attend after-hours Tuition Centre Education to supplement the knowledge of a subject like Maths, or Science or Language, all in the name of “getting through the examination”. 

Education in Sri Lanka created a class of “coached students” to pass examinations, not for acquiring skills for a vocation or further study.

Small wonder, there are all half-baked, half-educated, unable to compete in the “world of work,” running away from the country to shores abroad to hide themselves from their peers at home, to do menial jobs, just to earn a crust and send money home.

A shameful experience called Education in Sri Lanka  

Parents are sacrificing themselves to pay tuition fees, which are escalating depending on the area of competence of subjects for tuition. Teachers in their schools are creaming the hard-earned money of parents, forcing their students to attend their tuition.

Without Tuition Centre training, schools too are unable to maintain and produce the pass rates in their schools, for government support.

Up to the early Nineteen Seventies (1970’s) a noticeable feature of Government and Government funded schools in Sri Lanka, there were very few Tuition Masters, Tuition Centres giving private lessons to students around the country. Education in Sri Lanka today is Tuition Centred Education.

The quality and competence of Teachers in Government Schools

Arguably, there is a dearth of properly oriented and trained teachers in Sri Lanka today. Teaching was a vocation some sixty-odd years ago. Today Teacher Training comprises rote learning, and teachers over these many years have become “the fat cats of Sri Lanka, creaming off hard earned

and scarce resources of parents, who have blighted students under their care for long hours of attendance at Tuition Centres all around the country. Millennium Generation Students of Sri Lanka, seem to be “burnt out” attending multi-faceted Tuition Centres all around the land. The curriculum of Teacher Training Institutes should be closely monitored by a staff of trained Inspectors. Teaching should once again be made a vocation, rather than a lucrative way of supplementing teachers’ wages. 

What needs to be done to bring education back to its pristine status? 

There are five top strengths that employers look for in a rounded education.

Oral and communication skills in English

Critical Thinking and problem solving

Teamwork and collaboration

Professionalism and a strong work ethic

Leadership

United Kingdom: Legal Basis for The Constitutional Monarchy

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Do not be fooled by constitutional theories (the ‘paper  description’)  and  formal  institutional  continuities  (‘connected  outward  sameness’)  – concentrate  instead  on  the  real  centres  of  power  and  the  practical  working  of  the  political system (‘living reality’).  Walter Bagehot (1867)

This article commences with profound appreciation of Her Majesty the late Queen Elizabeth II and her service to the Nation and concludes with every good wish for the reign of His Majesty King Charles III.

At this turning point in the history of the United Kingdom the most fundamental truth and point of clarity is that the King reigns (as head of nation) but does not rule.  This legal profundity is founded on the philosophy of John Locke ( 1632-1704) who propounded the concept of the “Moderate Monarchy” – a new political idea – that infused certain limitations of power on the Monarchy based on the principle that laws should be enacted for the common good of the citizenry.  Having introduced this approach,  Locke advocated residual powers for the sovereign, ascribing discretion to the sovereign to change or amend laws – again for the common good -a practice  now known as the Royal Prerogative. 

It is the Parliament that rules and the King is obliged to follow the advice of Parliament. The King has meetings once a month with his Privy Council – his advisory body – and approves Orders in Council that emanate from the consultations with and advice of The Privy Council.  The King also performs, with the advice of the Parliament,  several key functions such as appointing the Prime Minister and senior judges and  receiving  incoming and outgoing ambassadors. The King also signs State papers which he receives daily and conducts weekly meetings with his Prime Minister as well as other meetings regularly  with senior officials.

Additionally, the Monarch can declare war and peace; sign treaties; dissolve Parliament; confer peerages and knighthoods.

In 1689 co-rulers of England King William III and Queen Mary II signed into law the English Bill of Rights.  For the first time in English history the bill adumbrated explicit constitutional and civic rights and it is believed by many that it was the genesis of the constitutional Monarchy (where the monarch’s discretion is limited) and Parliamentary power over the Monarchy. Arguably, The English Bill of Rights greatly influenced the draughtsmen of the U.S. Bill of Rights. The English Bill of Rights came into being after the ouster of King James II who was largely considered autocratic and was subsequently ousted.  Ineluctably therefore the document identified the misdeeds of James II.  The English Bill of Rights clearly ascribed to the king or queen the exalted position of head of State but circumscribed some of his or her powers which were considered as limited by law. Some of the rights contained and embodied in The English  Bill of Rights were: freedom to elect members of Parliament, without the king or queen’s interference; freedom of speech in Parliament; freedom from royal interference with the law; freedom to petition the king; freedom to bear arms for self-defence; freedom from cruel and unusual punishment and excessive bail; freedom from taxation by royal prerogative, without the agreement of Parliament; freedom of fines and forfeitures without a trial; freedom from armies being raised during peacetimes. The English  Bill of Rights also prohibited Catholics from becoming the Monarch and required that Parliament be convened regularly.

The Monarchy was obligated to rule under the consent of Parliament, with the recognition that the people had individual rights. Therefore, it would not be incorrect to say that in the  British constitutional Monarchy, the king (or queen)  plays a largely ceremonial role. However, the monarch stands out as the symbol and inspiration of national unity and earns the respect of the local and international community as an apolitical figure.  The famous former editor of The Economist Walter Bagehot described the monarch as the “dignified part of the Constitution”.

At law, there can be no civil or criminal proceedings against the sovereign. It’s par for the course that this exemption notwithstanding, the King or Queen (as the case may be) is careful to act within the bounds of law and tradition. The genesis of this tradition arguably lies in The Magna Carta Liberatum (Great Charter) signed between King John and a group of barons in 1215 laying out the freedoms of individuals.  The document was composed of 63 Articles, one of which said the king must follow the law and could not simply rule as he wished. The Magna Carta stands as the monument of the constitutional history of England.

One of the legacies, and indeed a blessing of the Moderate Monarchy as espoused by John Locke is that between the Monarchy and parliament, these two institutions effectively preclude the infestation of insidious and invidious autocracies in the community. A corollary to the harmonious blending of the two institutions is The Rule of Law.  One of the most significant features of the majesty of the law as the queen of humanities is the elegance of the Rule of Law as the foundation of humanity.  The Rule of Law is the hallmark of democracy.  Regrettably, at the present time, the aspirations people had of equal rights and representation by the people of the people for the people have gradually  eroded into a quagmire of ambivalent populism that is shrouded in mendacious and self-serving casuistry. A whole new phenomenon called illiberal democracy has been identified by the intelligentsia as a definition of this  phenomenon. The hallmark of illiberal democracy is the ignoring by those democratically elected by the people – in many instances those that have been re-elected or reaffirmed through referenda – of constitutional limits on their power, thereby depriving their citizens of basic rights and freedom.

The Rule of Law, which is entrenched in the unwritten British Constitution reflects the quintessence of Constitutional Monarchy. To this end Lard Bingham has attempted a definition of the Rule of Law thus: “all individuals and organizations within the State, whether public or private, are bound by, and entitled to the benefit of laws prospectively promulgated and publicly administered in the courts”.  This definition can be expanded to several corollaries. Laws should be intelligible.  They should not be couched in a plethora of pages in convoluted language and expanded to hundreds of regulations.  Nor should they be orally delivered  through speeches and pronouncements.  Any written amendment to a law should be brought to the attention of the people.  A society should be governed by law and not by discretion granted to or assumed by public officials.  Additionally, they should be equally applied.  To expand further, laws should not favour a particular category of individual.  Past examples are the depravity of slavery, servanthood  and the arbitrarily perceived  inferiority of women in some jurisdictions.

It can be argued that the sustenance of the modern-day British Monarchy and its dignified relationship with the Parliament would continue to ac as a buffer against populism, illiberalism, and autocracy.

A Tribute to Winifred

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by It is not so conventional for a husband to write an eulogy or memorial for his wife. However, we have not been very conventional in life on many matters and occasions. We were born in the same area of Moratuwa, more precisely Moratuwella, in between the Panadura river and the Indian Ocean. Therefore, the nature and water had some effect on our lives in a positive manner from the beginning. Only on rare occasions we had to be careful about the rising tide of the river or the angry behavior of the sea. The area was fairly clean, and the residents were less than a quarter of the present population. Her house was along Francisco Place and ours was just beside St Peter’s Church. 

It was after an initial stay in Ragala, where her father ran a petrol station, that she came with some of her siblings to stay at their ancestral home and to go to school in Moratuwa. While she went to the Princess of Wales College, I attended the Prince of Wales College. Her elder sister and one of my elder sisters were friends. This gave us the initial opportunity to become family friends. We also went to the same church and Sunday school at St Peter’s Church. 

She had an initial adventurist nature to influence others through several devices. When I met her as a teenager, one of her tricks was to read or pretend to read others’ horoscopes. Perhaps she had learnt something from a Guru. I was bypassed, until I learned palm reading. Obviously, palm reading was more effective than horoscope in conquering followers. That is how I managed to conquer her. 

We had common endeavors in studying and preparing for examinations. That is how we came closer in early 1960s. We exchanged study notes, books, pens, pencils, and letters including love letters. Those days pens were not bolt point but fountain pens. We sometimes got reprimanded by our families for these exchanges, but not necessarily for our friendship. In our family, Winitha was considered a good person and perhaps I also had the same reputation in her family. Among our topics of discussion, leftist politics started to take prominence given my close association with the Lanka Sama Samaja Party – even as a school student. 

We entered the University of Peradeniya, one after the other, I opting to do a special degree in Economics, and Winitha selecting B.Ed.. At Peradeniya, apart from our studies we were closely involved in radical left politics. Our objective was to keep the left movement as independent as possible from the main (bourgeoise) parties – although it was difficult to achieve. Those days, in the student movement, there was a fair balance between studies and student activism. However, things were changing during the latter stages of our student days.  

In 1970, Winitha became a graduate teacher, first teaching at Kandapola, while she boarded at Nuwara Eliya. By that time, we were married. Our marriage was sudden and unconventional. My appointment at Vidyodaya University in June 1969 was an easy excuse for a sudden marriage. Under university rules, when a lecturer goes on overseas leave, the spouse received travel grants if they were married before the appointment. That was an excuse. We didn’t see much point in having a conventional wedding or a big ceremony, although our families were all ready for that. 

This year, 2022, we completed 53 years of married life without any upheavals. Our only son, Ravi, born in 1973, was always on our side. His birth also marked a change in our lives, from being a less responsible couple to a more accountable parents. Politics became more of a theoretical or academic matter without our direct involvement. 

We went to Canada in mid 1970s to complete our postgraduate studies thanks to Prof A. J. Wilson’s help. Winitha completed a M.Ed. We became very close to Wilson family, Susili Wilson (S. J. V. Chelvanayakam’s daughter) as an inspirer. Through experience, we came to know the futility of Sinhala people suspecting or distancing themselves from Tamil people and vice versa, one of the causes of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.               

While more of her study courses centered around educational psychology, she selected “The Development of University Education in Sri Lanka, 1963 – 1971: Implications for Employment” as the research topic. She wrote “My main conclusion is that while it is to some extent clear that the expansion of university education during 1960s, with a greater emphasis on the humanities and social sciences, was largely responsible for aggravating the unemployment situation, there is, however, the more important consideration that a greater share of the blame for the situation has to be assigned to tardy economic growth.” 

Although having a M.Ed. from the University of New Brunswick, she was not expecting any special treatment or promotion as she knew that all these are mostly done in Sri Lanka on different considerations. She accompanied me to Geneva in 1984 until we decided to migrate to Australia for the sake of our son in 1991. She was also committed to the objectives of the World University Service (WUS) as I was. 

She had completed a teaching career of over 15 years by then. Under new regulations, those teachers who had completed 12 years of teaching could obtain retirement and pension. However, she could not. When we applied for a pension, she was served with ‘a vacation of post notice.’ When an appeal was made, a person in charge of the matter said that we should go to the Minister. Although the Minister was personally known to both of us, Winitha was not agreeable to go before a politician as a matter of principle. 

In Australia, she first served at the Community Services Centre in Bondi Junction. Then she obtained a Casual Teacher position in the Western Sydney area. Thus, we moved from East to West in Sydney. When a teacher was on leave or absent, she had to go and teach. No influence was necessary for these appointments. Although it was casual, considering her postgraduate qualifications from Canada, she was given a higher salary scale.  

Teaching and teacher education appeared to make a big influence in a person’s personal character. She was calm and sober, balanced minded and moderate, and without jumping on to quick conclusions on any matter. After my retirement, our lives became much closer during the last ten years or so. We again started to exchange things like shirts and shoes, like in our young age. She was delighted to wear my shirts. 

For the last three years, we have been staying at the Bruce Sharpe Lodge in Rockdale, Sydney. Australia supplies excellent services to old-aged people particularly with health issues. Her passing away was completely unexpected. She was admitted to hospital due to a brain aneurysm. Although a successful surgery was done, acquiring Covid surprisingly in the ICU, prevented her further recovery. No health system appears to be faultless in any country today. Negligence or challenge of Covid was a major factor. 

Winifred passed away peacefully without much suffering on 12 August. Our daughter-in-law Clare, our grandson Josh, our son Ravi, and I were by her side during her last moments. She passed away at 4:33am on 12 August surrounded by music from her childhood (Sunil Santha’s songs were playing) and by her loving family. That is what she always wanted. We feel that she is still with us in spirit although not physically. 

May she Rest in Peace. 

May she attain Nibbana. 

(This tribute was written with inputs from our son, Ravi Fernando.) 

The Role of Religion in Our Society

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We are agricultural societies that have industrialized within one or two generations…If you look at Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Singapore – there’s been one remarkable phenomenon – the rise of religion…there is a quest for some higher explanations about man’s purpose. About why we are here. This is associated with periods of great stress in society. ~ Lee Kuan Yew

We live in the Anthropocene –  an era of profound social disturbance caused by man-made and natural disasters.  Both Mother Nature and Father Time are punishing us.  Never in the annals of human history have we given ourselves deadlines to avert disaster.  Yet, we believe that we’ll find some way to get out of the  mess. This could well be our natural inclination toward religion – in our faith and belief.

Religion is fundamentally a matter of faith and belief which, although not mutually exclusive, represent two different aspects of one’s religious persuasion. While faith represents trust or dependence in one sense, it also represents “strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof”. Belief on the other hand is defined as  “an acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists – a religious conviction – trust, faith, or confidence in someone or something”. In other words, faith and belief supplement each other, often confusing the literati until explained with clarity by someone (other than the writer) who might be more erudite in the scriptures of the various religions that exist in the world today.

What is even more interesting is the definition of the word “religion”.  Yuval Noah Harari in his much acclaimed and celebrated historical work “Sapiens – a Brief History of Humankind” defines religion as “ a system of human norms and values that is founded on a belief in a superhuman order”.  Harari distinguishes his statement by saying that religion differs from a sport – say professional football – on the point that whereas human beings invented the structure, rules and conduct involving football, religion is not the product of human whims or agreements. He goes on to explain that “FIFA may any moment enlarge the size of the goal or suspend the offside rule”.

It is reported that approximately 85% of the world identifies with a religion. The most popular religion is Christianity, followed by an estimated 2.38 billion people worldwide. Islam, which is practiced by more than 1.91 billion people, is second. However, population researchers predict that Islam will have nearly caught up to Christianity by 2050.

So, what caused the popularity of religion in society?  Samuel Huntington, University Professor at Harvard University in his ground-breaking book “The Clash of Civilizations and  Remaking the World Order offers an explanation, “ The most obvious, most salient, and most powerful cause of the global resurgence is precisely what was supposed to cause the death of religion: the processes of social, economic, and cultural modernization that swept across the world in the second half of the twentieth century. Long-standing sources of identity and systems of authority are disrupted. People move from the countryside to the city, become separated from their roots, and take new jobs or no jobs. They interact with large numbers of strangers and are exposed to new sets of relationships.  They need new sources of identity, new forms of a stable community and new sets of moral precepts to provide them with a sense of meaning and purpose. Religion…meets these needs”.

In other words, religion gives us a sense of identity and direction in a world in which we are struggling to survive amidst the machinations of greed, ambition, self-interest, and downright evil.  The growing social dimension of religion may have emerged as a result of the transition of society from the agricultural revolution   (which was accompanied by a religious revolution) to the industrial revolution and onwards to the knowledge revolution, which could have prompted Jean Paul Sartre to say, “Hell is other people”.

Here’s my take.

Any religion or philosophy of life (such as Buddhism) must be based on the pursuit of a good life. Michael Sandel – also a Harvard professor – put it best when he said “the common good is about how we live together in community. It’s about the ethical ideals we strive for together, the benefits and burdens we share, and the sacrifices we make for one another. It’s about the lessons we learn from one another about how to live a good and decent life”.  Our lives must be shared with one another, and to successfully accomplish this goal, there must be a fusion or extension of the holy scriptures ( The Holy Bible; The Holy Quran; or The Bhagavat Geeta, to name a few) to the wisdom of our generations, while preserving our beliefs and faiths. As the father of existentialism – Soren Kierkegaard – a devout Christian of Danish origin said, “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards”.  Kierkegaard brought a potent mixture of discourses to bear as social critique and for the purpose of renewing Christian faith within Christendom – what he called “the leap of faith”.

Study.Com carries an interesting piece about the leap of faith: “the definition of a leap of faith is a person having trust in something despite the lack of logic, reason, and rationality. They leap, figuratively, to interact or explore this thing. The phrase is significant to understanding the stages of human existence, which comprise a transition from one stage to another through this leap.

When someone believes in God, this would require a leap of faith for Kierkegaard. It disregards any logic and reason because there is no proof that this exists. In moments of despair, confusion, or other feelings of uncertainty and doubt, faith in God is done out of volition. When a person has faith in God, there is nothing that can measure it. It is an intangible phenomenon. For example, there are no predictable stages in life, changes, or movements and actions that a person must go through to garner this conclusion that they have faith”.

There is no scientific evidence that God exists. But we humans believe and indeed know of the existence of things that are scientifically inexplicable.  Take consciousness for example. Each of us knows we have consciousness or awareness, but we cannot scientifically prove it, nor can we ascribe a reason for its existence.  It is this consciousness that enables us to gain knowledge and wisdom through communal endeavours.  We advance our global communities through our consciousness.  At the same time, we also destroy ourselves through our consciousness.

As Deepak Chopra says: “Consciousness is that thing in you that is reading and understanding these words right now. It is the awareness that has made you sentient to every thought, sensation, and feeling your entire life. It is the continuity of your life that has stayed the same while all of the details of your life change. Consciousness is your essential nature, your true self that is the silent basis of all your thoughts and actions”

Consciousness, when blended with the communal nature that religion infuses in us will ultimately help us in conquering natural and man-made disasters while humanism (belief in oneself and no other) alone will not take us through the serious business of existing on this planet.  One may well argue that if we are impelled to act in consonance with our consciousness, we may hear God speak. 

A Sri Lankan as Cabinet Minister of United Kingdom

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Who would believe that among the Cabinet members of Prime Minister Liz Truss, is a British-born Sri Lankan, Rt. Hon. Ranil Jayawardena, the charismatic constituency MP for Northeast Hampshire.

As a Sri Lankan living in England, without a British Passport, since the World Cup in June 1966, I find it is a singular honour for my country, an accomplishment of note for Ranil Jayawardena, becoming the first ever individual of Sri Lankan parentage, to be not only appointed a Cabinet Minister but hold one of the prestigious and coveted posts, as Secretary of State for Environment. Food and Rural Affairs. The Brits know we have problems back home, but have much to offer in Britain?

Ranil Jayawardena previously served as Minister for International Trade from May 2020 to September 2022 in Boris Johnson’s government. Without much publicity, I do not need to tell my readers how much he accomplished.

No one knows how much PM Liz Truss had entrusted Ranil Jayawardena, with the delicate diplomatic work of clinching trade treaties with many nations, including with Australia, when she was Secretary of Trade, prior to being promoted by Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. She has in my opinion, rewarded him now for his track record.

A Cabinet of the Colours of Benetton or the Commonwealth?

PM Liz Truss has entrusted and appointed four ethnic minority representatives to hold the four key posts in her Government. It is not necessarily to appease the minorities?

They are the offices of Chancellor of the Exchequer, to Rt. Hon. Kwarsi Kwarteng, of Sierra Leone, the first Black Foreign Secretary; James Cleverley, of West Indian parentage; the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, Q.C, of Indian origin and the first Black Trade Secretary, Kemi Badenock of Nigerian parentage. Besides, we have others of foreign decent, holding well-deserved high posts, both in Government and H.M. Opposition.

It appears for the first time in the history of Parliament and Cabinet Government in the United Kingdom, we see a Government with Commonwealth representation, the “United Colors of Benetton” or a government entrusted to citizens of foreign parentage.

Why are so many Cabinet Ministers of foreign background

It is a well thought out and planned strategy for the Brits to entrust difficult assignments, for that matter “impossible tasks at times of crisis to people of foreign origin”. There is an adage that “the new colonial mindset of the Brits”, is to rely on the best available talent available in the country.

It has been tried and tested strategy in times past, that to get a job done, well and truly done or, “to make a task doable,” the most reliable way, is a search for talent, coupled with proven track record. The Brits are very good at spotting talent, and cultivate association.

People of foreign origin, have a habit of wanting “to better the British,” and they often perform impossible tasks, through sheer hard labour, knowledge and attention to detail.

I know from my experience, how foreigners work hard and how much they deliver against all odds.

I can also imagine how much Ranil Jayawardena will give of himself to prove “a point of delivering the impossible”, by sheer diplomacy.

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going” is a well-known adage

Prior to Brexit, we were told, “that Britain’s being shamed by an army of highly motivated East European immigrants willing to work long hours, according to a report published by the Home Office. Employers believe that immigrant workers are often harder working, reliable and motivated compared to their British counterparts. Have Britons lost the work ethic?” according to The Times.

That said, I know the job ahead of Prime Minister, Liz Truss is a thankless job. To be frank, even her Prime Ministerial post contestant, Rt. Hon. Rishi Sunak said: “he would go back to United States, “Silicon Valley” rather the contest his seat in Yorkshire Dales again.

What makes the Brits so confident that they will deliver now?

For those of us who have breathed the air and the tenacity of the Brits for over half a century now, the British have an innate feel when an impossible job is “do-able”?

They are so adept in getting anyone in the world to do the job, they think can be done.

Trustless Companions

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Just a few months back, it was in the news that the US authorities were considering imposing sanctions on India because of its trade ties with Russia. It was all being done as a part of US’ isolation strategy during the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine those days. Situation became more serious when India stood in the line of those 35 countries which abstained themselves from voting at the United Nations against the Russian advancement in Ukraine. Certainly the Indian decision of going against the US will and desire was not very much encouraging rather pleasing for the US authorities, military as well as political. At political level both the Democrats and Republicans raised their concerns about India’s stance of ‘going against the wind’ and it was being apprehended that this decision would create distances between the two countries. It was also in the air that the Biden administration might impose sanctions upon India under the ‘CAATSA law’ which imposes certain restrictions on the countries purchasing defense materials from Russia, North Korea and Iran. The abbreviation CAATSA stands for ‘Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act. But in spite of all these fears and apprehensions, according to some analysts, India is still the ‘blue-eyed boy’ of US and this misconception rather misunderstanding would prove a seriously painful shock to the US policy-makers, somewhere in near or far future.

Meenakshi Ahmed is a renowned expert on India-US relations. She is the author of ‘A Matter of Trust- U.S. India relations from Truman to Trump’. Recently she penned down an article in the Atlantic with the title, ‘America Has Never Really Understood India’. She said, “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has resurrected Cold War hostilities, harkening back to a world in which the United States saw itself pitted in a Manichaean struggle, facing a choice between good and evil. The U.S. is using similar rhetoric today to persuade countries to isolate and punish Moscow.” She further says, “President Joe Biden has garnered support among his NATO allies to impose crippling sanctions on Russia, but his efforts elsewhere have been only partially successful. Australia and Japan—which, along with the U.S., make up three-quarters of the Quad, a relatively new Asian-security grouping—have signed on, but India, the fourth member of the bloc, has declined to join the chorus of condemnation.” If India were a very serious and sincere partner of the US, it must have been the first one to offer all cooperation in this regard.

In March 2015, Crispin Rovere penned down an article in The Interpreter with the title, ‘India is no ally of the US’. The writer said, “As for India and the US, I find it astonishing that after more than 50 years of being repeatedly burned, some Americans still have not learned their lesson and continue insisting that China and India are ‘natural competitors’. This is false. China and India are historical competitors, but such competition is not necessarily ‘natural’ and certainly nothing like the strategic competition that exists between China and the US. After all, any Chinese expansion in the Western Pacific will be at America’s expense. It is hard to argue that India’s expansion into the Indian Ocean is being actively resisted by China. India is not a pro-Western democratic bulwark, and never will be.”

Last year on April 15, 2021, same apprehensions were expressed by Chirayu Thakkar regarding uncertainty of US-India relations in an article appeared in the Stimson. The writer said, “For the last 20 years, the United States has mostly overlooked its divergences with India in multilateral forums as the relationship paid economic, strategic, and political dividends bilaterally, whereas the costs of divergences at the multilateral level were negligible. In spite of such exceptionalism enjoyed by New Delhi, U.S. diplomats at all levels reminded their Indian counterparts that India’s “obstinate role at the UN was increasingly at odds with our emerging strategic proximity.” With a restructuring of the global order, continuous assault on rules-based order, and China’s rise as a common strategic adversary, the costs of their inability to work together in the global governance arena can be much higher for both countries today.”

‘The India Way: Strategies for an Uncertain World’ is no doubt a book which must be an eye-opener to all those who are misguided by the notion that India would always remain an ally of the US, keeping all its national interest aside. The book is written by India’s external affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. He has very emphatically tried to explain that India has no plan to align itself fully with either the U.S. or China. He says, “This is a time for us to engage America, manage China, reassure Russia, and bring Japan into play.” Dov S. Zakheim is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and vice chairman of the board for the Foreign Policy Research Institute. In September 2021, his review on Shankar’s book was published in the Hill, in which he tried to make his readers realize that whatever Jaishankar said in his book, must not be taken for granted as he had been a former ambassador to both Washington and Beijing; moreover he is the son of Krishnaswamy Subrahmanyam who is recognized as the ‘father of India’s nuclear program’. Krishnaswamy Subrahmanyam is the person who maintained close ties with Moscow even as he was perhaps the leading advocate of the 2007 Indo-U.S. Agreement on Civilian Nuclear Cooperation. If such a well-informed and well-connected person does not find harmony in American and Indian interests, it means the actual situation is altogether different from what apparently seems. If India is not fair in its relationship with US, why US is wasting its resources on making India ‘the regional god-father’.

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