Malinda Seneviratne

Malinda Seneviratne is a poet, critic, journalist, translator, political commentator, and activist. Known for his outspoken political views, his opinion pieces are among the most widely read in Sri Lanka. He is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute.

System Change: an Aragalist touch-me-not?


Such diversity! Such passion! Such innovation and creativity! Such courage and heroism! Such were and still are the encomiums floating around in mainstream and new media about the Aragalaya. Yes, there was diversity, passion, creativity, innovation and courage. These however do not necessarily constitute good, healthy, wholesome etc. For example, the LTTE, Al Qaeda, ISIS, Taliban and other such outfits had little diversity as is the case in identity based ‘struggles,’  but that all have long histories marked by creativity, innovation, passion, courage and heroism.

There was diversity and there was division. There were LGBTQ collectives (who, if probed, probably had very divergent views on things like governance systems, capitalism, the so-called ‘national question,’ elitism etc) and there were people spouting homophobic rhetoric. There were nationalists and those who equate the term with Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism. There were victims of the system and system-beneficiaries. There was the left and the right getting comfy with one another (of course the radical credentials of many self-styled leftists have long since been compromised). And there was Julie Chung playing Viceroy in the midst of a flag-waving multitude. But, clearly, they all got together.
For what? Well, even as they blared out their pet slogans, passed around leaflets and posted in social media nutshell version of particular ideologies and preferred outcomes, and ‘educated’ the ‘ill-educated’ at every turn in pitiful attempts to dislodge long-standing angst, they were in unison in the call for the resignation of Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

If anyone truly believed that getting rid of Gota would sort the country’s many ills, that’s delusion of the highest order. Nevertheless, it could be argued (and it has) that ousting him is a necessary first step in the process of putting things right. This theory is full of holes.

Systems can be represented by a single person or a collective of a few individuals, a family in this case as is argued for example. A system however is not a person (or a collective). The removal of a representative will not alter it. In this instance there was no agreement among the diverse multitude unified by a person-focused slogan and nothing else about successor or succession. Neither was there any cogent idea or even discussion about what kind of system would be desirable and how to go about installing it.

This is not surprising when outfits such as the Inter University Student Federation (IUSF) and the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP, which by the way dominates the IUSF) who formed the agitational vanguard in the main and professed to be committed to system-change failed miserably in a) coming up with even a halfway decent set of proposals for system change, and b) did not attempt to mobilise the agitators around the idea of a system-change. The second is understandable given the ideological diversity and a marked tendency to back-burn system change, never going beyond what at best could be called a peripheral slogan/demand.

Not surprisingly neither was there much of a system-change discourse emanating from the Neddas (those individuals/groups directly or indirectly benefiting from funds channeled through the National Endowment for Democracy — NED — the US outfit that took over the CIA’s country-destabilising operation), Candlelight Ladies, Rent-a-Protest Agitators, Stink Tanks, Con-Artists, Bornagainazis and other Funded Voices and other Kolombians. Indeed, for most of them the system was coterminous with Rajapaksas which again demonstrates both naïveté and duplicity.

Not all of this is captured in a survey of the Aragalaya recently carried out by the Centre for Policy Alternatives, but even this suspect outfit has (perhaps inadvertently) come upon a few startling truths about public perception related to what for some, such as the Asia Foundation, was ‘revolutionary’.    

The CPA assures that the semi-structured questionnaire administered among 1100 respondents from the four main ethnic communities (one wonders whether these were weighted to reflect real percentages) covering all 25 districts yielded reliable data.

On the one hand, a vast majority of respondents were willing to compromise on travelling and transport as well as food consumption (76.3% and 69.5%), but more than half were reluctant to agree to more taxes and almost 75% were vehemently opposed to any move that might result in a family member losing a job. This is all understandable. What’s missing here is hat some of the proposals for ‘change’ include these kinds of measures, especially those conditions currently being insisted by the IMF.
More than 80% want ‘system change’ but are clearly wary of neoliberalism. They want welfare and they also want less government. They want foreign companies to invest in Sri Lanka and they don’t want limits on earning capacity but they are not happy about privatising state-owned enterprises. They vehemently oppose greater involvement of the private sector in health and education.

Many questions have not been asked and therefore the data is not available. Here’s a list of issues that the CPA could consider if/when it conducts a follow-up survey:

1. What are the perceptions of Julie Chung’s involvement in the Aragalaya? 2. Can the IMF help the cause of changing the system? 3. Has the system changed? 3a. If ‘yes,’ in what ways specifically? 3b. If not, why not? 4. Does the replacement of a leader amount to system-change? 5. Did the institutional arrangement and the system of state processes change at all thanks to the Aragalaya? If conditions have not improved (The CPA’s income-expenditure data from the survey indicates that the situation has got worse) what really are the positives vis-a-vis ‘change’ that the Aragalaya yielded?  

While at it, the CPA (or anyone else) can ask if people know anything about the global capitalist system, whether or not it is important to develop the country’s manufacturing sector, whether or not development banks are necessary, whether or not a comprehensive plan for food and energy sovereignty and the will to implement it has to be part of a changed-system, whether beneficiaries of the system so reviled (the rich and powerful) truly wanted the structures and processes altered, and why and how the idea of system-change fizzled out the moment Ranil Wickremesinghe took control.

They could also ask what happened to the energy, creativity and courage? What happened to the agitational heroes? Who really benefited from the Aragalaya? Does Galle Face Green look prettier now if more boring? Were they right, those who said that it was a circus, all things considered and that the well-intentioned who were without political affiliation but were determined to build a new Sri Lanka cheated?

India reconfirms enemy-status


Indra Mani Pandey. Remember the name. He’s India’s Permanent Representative in Geneva. He’s no novice in matters diplomatic, having joined the service more than 30 years ago. He would have been old enough even before that to know what’s what in Indo-Lanka relations, if he was inclined at the time to educate himself about international relations and in particular South Asian affairs.

So, to cut to the chase, when someone like Pandey says something about Sri Lanka, we need to take note. He has explained why India abstained on the vote against (yes) Sri Lanka at the UNHRC sessions and thereby has told us how India sees Sri Lanka, Sri Lankan issues and Sri Lanka’s future. We must thank him for being forthright: ‘we are grateful, Indra, for the honesty!’ The cheers stop right there, though.

Pandey waxes, not too eloquently: ‘India has always been guided by the two fundamental principles of support to the aspirations of the Tamils for equality, justice, dignity and peace and unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty of Sri Lanka.’

Always? Really? Why then did India arm, train and fund separatist terrorists? Was that to strengthen unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty? India was clearly intent on destabilising Sri Lanka. Indeed India was a major part of the problem. And, thereafter, we had the problem-creator (or problem-enhancer, if you want to be generous) stepping in to resolve the problem. Indra is a funny guy, folks. India is a funny country, one might say, except that there is nothing funny about doing everything possible to prolong an unnecessary conflict, directly or indirectly paving the way to death, destruction, dismemberment and displacement of a magnitude beyond calculation. Three years before Indra entered the service, India stepped in to effectively bail out the terrorists.

Yes, the Indo-Lanka Accord. Indra knows or has learned about it at some point, for he talks of the 13th Amendment. More waxing sans eloquence: ‘While we have taken note of the commitments by the government of Sri Lanka on issues of implementation of the commitments in the spirit of the 13th Constitutional Amendment, meaningful devolution and the early conduct of provincial elections, we believe that the progress towards the same remains inadequate.’

Right. Here goes. The 13th Amendment was imposed on Sri Lanka at gun point by India. Rajiv Gandhi bragged at the time that it was the beginning of the Bhutanization of Sri Lanka. That’s a weird understanding of unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity, right? Let’s talk about commitment though.

India reneged on her commitment to disarm the terrorists. Sri Lanka had to do India’s job and it took a further 22 years. India should shut up about ‘commitments’ especially since India has enjoyed the advantages scripted into the Accord all these years, even after getting a BIG ‘F’ on the one thing India was supposed to do.

How about devolution? Well, on paper it’s not a bad thing, except of course that the relevant territorial demarcations rebel against demography (almost 50% of Tamils live outside the Northern and Eastern provinces), history (lines were drawn by European invaders arbitrarily) and economy (the Western Province’s contribution to the economy is a massive slice and if one pushed the logic of ‘devolution’ to any reasonable conclusion, other provinces will remain relatively impoverished). As for provincial council elections, none of the diehard devolutionists (well, they are really federalists or separatists) have agitated for them to be held over the last several years. Let’s not forget that the Northern Provincial Council couldn’t even spend monies allocated. All it did was to give legitimacy to an Eelam Map that symbolised just one thing: attempted land-theft by one particular ethnic group.

Aspirations. Indra talks about them. He has to, since it’s one of the two ‘fundamental principles of support.’ Tamil aspirations, someone should tell Indra, was essentially a desire to annex two-thirds of the coast and half the land mass for a little more than 5% of the population (considering almost half the so-called ‘Eelam Tamils’ live outside ‘Eelam’. Do the math, Indra/India. Maybe an Indian analogy would help; it would be like Muslims in India aspiring to have control over a territory equivalent to the sum of Rajastha, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat. That’s an equivalency the likes of Indra would dare not consider.

Yes, we need peace. We need reconciliation. Such needs are the inevitable outcomes of conflict-end. Fixing these to exaggerated grievances and out-of-this-world aspirations and tying it all to a constitutional amendment obtained by a bully is unacceptable. Ridiculous, in fact.

Indra sweetens the apology by talkie of India’s provision to relief, rehabilitation, resettlement and reconstruction efforts in Sri Lanka and assistance provided this year to mitigate the economic crises. Well, thank you. Very much. Still falls way short of compensation India ought to pay for all the miseries unleashed on Sri Lanka by hegemonic, arrogant and moronic Indian leaders though. Indra should know, because lately India has been belligerent in demanding reparations from Britain. The histories are different of course, but costs are costs, aggressors are known and if justice is about redress then India owes much and talks not at all about all this.

So, in sum, Indra played a typical Indian card in Geneva. A lot of poppycock and hardly disguised enmity. Not surprising.

Obnoxious Behaviour Against Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a resilient nation. That’s almost a given. A constant. All talk of peace, human rights, democracy, good governance, reparations and other such goodies emanating from Washington, London and other empiric capitals are disingenuous and laughable. Constant. Meddling, self-righteous and downright obnoxious North American and European diplomats: well, almost par for the course, with the US and UK specimens ensuring an above average score on such attributes.

Sessions of the UNHRC. The USA and others in the global thugs club bad-mouthing Sri Lanka while Russia and China lauding the restraint shown in dealing with brigands, highway robbers, arsonist and murderers operating under the, yes, legitimate banner of agitation. Yes, the kind of restraint that the USA never exercised when dealing with protests and not just the Capitol Hill theatrics of Trumpites. Constants, all.

And India! The country that reneged on the very agreement her leaders penned and stuffed down a pliant, unimaginative and clueless J R Jayewardene demanded that Sri Lanka implement in full the illegal 13th Amendment. This is what the Indian delegate told the UNHRC: ‘India seeks full implementation of the 13th Amendment of the Constitution, delegation of powers to Provincial Councils and holding of Provincial Council elections at the earliest.’ No one, not even the diehard federalists and separatists either operating as pawns of India and the rogue nations of North America and Western Europe or are downright communalists have uttered one word calling for PC elections. Not a word about democracy being challenged by elections not being held. And yet, India wants Sri Lanka to inhabit India’s version of Sri Lankan reality. Constant.

To nutshell-capture, North America, Western Europe and India closed ranks against Sri Lanka while Russia and China, despite being snubbed no end by leaders without backbone defended Sri Lanka resolutely. Constants.

We could add to that Colombots, Candle-light Ladies, Rent-a-Protest Agitators, Funded Voices and other Kolombian sects. They’ll cheer most things that carry a Western/White token. They’ll wax eloquent about colonial rule, praising ‘accomplishments’ such as roads and railways, never mind that these were the yield of taxes paid and labor provided by Sri Lankans. They mourn the death of a woman who was the beneficiary and symbol of genocide and plunder. Constant.

So why bother talking about such things, one may ask. Well, certain things need to be reiterated and placed on record simply because we can forget to remember history. Simply because we can be fooled by sweet-talk. Simply because true citizenship requires us to observe, understand, share and agitate, one way or another.

A single example would do, actually. A two syllable name, actually. China. Now we know that China, a country which along with Japan owns US and Western European debt, is the No 1 target for Washington’s spin doctors. In fact US foreign policy in 2022 seems to be framed by a desperate need to vilify that country. So it should not come as a surprise that an outfit outrageously named Freedom House (it is primarily funded by USAID and the US State Department!) has ‘found’ that ‘Pro-Beijing influencers have increased their activities in the social media space—particularly their outreach to younger Sri Lankans—and new agreements with elites, including in the think tank space, have shaped conversations in the media.’

This is not outrageous, it is hilarious. When have US influencers ever held back their activities, in social and mainstream media? Washington, directly (through the Embassy) and indirectly through the latest avatar of the CIA, the notorious National Endowment for Democracy (NED) has its proverbial fingers thick in the Sri Lankan media space. Verite Research and Advocata, if they are honest, can do some insightful research on the subject.

When have US influencers ever neglected younger Sri Lankans (and young people in other countries similarly targeted)? Just the other day Julie Chang, now quite adept at putting her feet in her mouth, confusing ‘danger’ with ‘dangerous’ when tweeting about peacocks, was bragging about young people in the strangely named ‘American Corner Matara.’ What Canada, Central America and South America would have to say about pernicious appropriation of the proper noun ‘America’ we do not know, but while it is bullish to mark territory in that manner, it is not the case that US influencers have limited operations to getting a foothold in the Southern Province. They are as thick as thieves with think tanks, politicians, so-called civil society organizations and media personnel, especially outfits and individuals who believe they are at the epicenter of social change in Sri Lanka. Social change, mind you, is but an easy proxy for ‘change sought by US paymasters.’

Freedom House (sic) is upset by China’s alleged close ties with elites. I suppose they believe the US gives local elites a wide berth. They whine about ‘aggressive diplomatic push on social media.’ Maybe they’ve not heard of Julie Chang and the local foot soldiers hired to do US propaganda. They are also worried about China Radio International reaching out to Sri Lankan audiences in Sinhala. Well, all it means is that the Chinese, if not less vile than the USA, are way smarter. Anyway, it is not that the US has no footprint in Sinhala media or no social media operatives either engaged in China-bashing or genuflecting before Uncle Sam. In Sinhala.

There’s more of course, but it’s all about the US being annoyed that China has cut in on their action. George Carlin, the US comedian once said that wars are mostly about white people killing brown people and the only reason that white nations fought Hitler (a white man who killed white people) was that he had cut in on their action. Same same.

And when Samantha Power, currently attached to USAID, says ‘USA wants countries to be independent, she’s being comic beyond belief. How many countries does the USA have military bases in, Samantha? How many countries have the USA invaded over the last two centuries, or let’s say the last two decades? How many proxy wars has the USA funded? How many terrorists has the US supplied arms to, do you know? How many elections in how many countries has the USA interfered in? How about arm-twisting in multilateral agencies? How about the operations of the CIA and more recently, the NED? And you want countries to be independent? Well, lady, it’s simple. Just leave the room.

All this, pretty consistent with the way the world has been for decades. One difference. The USA is jittery. Now that’s a good sign, not just for Sri Lanka but the entire world. And India, if it wants to do better than the USA, would do well to learn. Things pass. Regimes change. Thugs are ousted. World powers of other eras have been brought to their feet. Such things happen.

Sri Lanka is resilient. That’s a constant that’s not boring. It gives us hope.

Ambassador Julie Chung: Pinocchio in New Normal


US Ambassador Julie Chung was spot on. A few days ago, she pointed out, correctly, that ‘fake news – and fake tweets – are a real problem.’ She urged one and all, ‘don’t be misled.’ This particular tweet, apparently, was a response of sorts to ‘fake tweets mimicking [her] account’ which ‘have been spreading on social media.’

Indeed, I’ve seen some ‘Julie Chung tweets’ which, at first glance, aren’t exactly out of sync with the tone and substance of Her Excellency’s utterances — they are as hilarious, condescending and ill-informed — which perhaps, if we take her word for it, are fake. In these dismal times some light humour is not misplaced of course. Satire, as she knows, is legit. It’s good that she has alerted the general public who could be, in her words, misled. The lady, however, might want to review her overall operational thrust in Sri Lankan affairs, tweets and other statements included. Just to be sure that clever mimickers cannot make an already pathetic public image even worse.

But. She got it right. Fake news (and news) and indeed fake anything can be a real problem. The rise of social media, for all the communicative benefits, has its own pitfalls, especially considering that those who run the platforms are not politically neutral and those who use it can get away with murder. Ms Chung should know, after all, her government, through the National Endowment of Democracy (NED) and other lovely-sounding-but-nefarious outfits have been funding all kinds of people and organizations with dubious histories for several years now. Sri Lanka had her fill of fake-news/tweets traceable to such people, consequently, especially during the aragalaya.

[Interestingly, those who seem to be even more upset than Chung about her being parodied in social media (yes, those fake tweets she refers to) uttered not a word of objection about deliberate efforts to mislead people. Maybe, for them, and by extension, Chung, such activity was never a problem but in fact a solution to a problem they were taxing their brains over. Yes, one is reminded of sauces, geese and ganders.]

But. She got it right. Fake anything is a problem. And it’s not something that started happening just the other day. Any half-way decent study into the antecedents of what is supposed to be the origins of European (or white) civilisation would yield rich, sophisticated and thriving black culture, science and social organisation. Jesus Christ was not a blond haired, blue-eyed white man. He was black (Source: the Bible, no less). He was not born on December 25th either. A lot of Christian symbols and iconography are borrowed from what are called pagan religions.

But. She got it right. It’s not just a long ago thing, but something that’s evident in remembered, recorded and verified history. It’s evident in a not-long-ago, in the yesterday and today of human affairs, political and otherwise, not excluding the machinations of the corporate sector and self-styled aragalists.

Joe Biden, her President, put it well: ‘There is no subject off-limits to this fire hose of falsehoods. Everything from human rights and environmental policy to assassinations and civilian-killing bombing campaigns are fair targets.’ Of course he was targeting Russia, but when it comes to firehoses and falsehoods the USA would be tough to beat. Chung and Biden ought to know.

Way back in 2010, Thomas L Carson wrote an essay titled ‘Lying and Deception about Questions of War and Peace: Case Studies,’ in which he documented ‘political leaders and public figures [who] told lies or engaged in deception as a pretext for fighting wars.’ Chung would find references to William Randolph Hearst, Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney. Obviously hardly an exhaustive list of liars. Fake news (no tweets back then) was not a problem for the USA even then. Remember Woodrow Wilson coming to power refusing to enter the way but in six months doing just that?

According to John R. MacArthur (Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the 1991 Gulf War) George Bush (Snr) went about it professionally. The public relations firm Hill & Knowlton, among other things, arranged for a 15-year old Kuwaiti girl named Nayirah to testify before Congress prior to a key vote. She claimed, MacArthur recounts, ‘that she had volunteered at the al-Addan hospital. She had said, ‘While I was there I saw the Iraqi soldiers coming into the hospital with guns and going into the room where 15 babies were in incubators. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators, and left the babies on the cold floor to die.’

Turned out that ‘it turned out that the witness was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the U.S., and human rights organizations found no evidence that anything like what she described had actually happened.’ Fake news. No problem for the USA.

We all know about non-existent weapons of mass destruction as pretext to invade Iraq. There’s the bombing of a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant. Then the Gulf of Tonkin incident. Exhaustive enumeration would force me to exceed the prescribed word-count for this piece.

The USA has a long history of interfering in other countries, beginning with the Ottoman colony Tripolitania in 1805 to the more recent examples of Ugly Americanism in Libya, Syria and Ukraine. Yes, another word-count exceeding exercise. Maybe Chung wants her name somewhere in this long and disgusting history, we don’t know. What is relevant is that in these machinations too, fake-news played a role, A plaint media did its part, one might add.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki recently expressed surprise that anyone could doubt the US military’s claims when it came to civilian casualties. Oh well! Sums it up doesn’t it? Not only are their damned lies but perhaps uttered so often that the utterers believe it all to be truth beyond a shadow of doubt. Julie Chung, on the other hand, got one thing right. She knows that fake news/tweets are a problem. Maybe she’s more enlightened than Jen Psaki — she doesn’t believe the fake news manufactured by her country but uses it anyway.

So. Retire moral posturing, already, Ms Chung and just encourage the laughs, huh?

Views are personal