April 14, 2021
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Snippets From Sri Lanka

Colombo Capers

If you were asked to choose between former LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and Al-Qaeda’s erstwhile boss Osama Bin Laden, who would you pick as the bigger terrorist?

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Dubious distinction

Who was the bigger terrorist? If you were asked to choose between former LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and Al-Qaeda’s erstwhile boss Osama Bin Laden, who would you pick for the dubious distinction? A sensible person may consider this question to be a joke but in Colombo’s power corridors, it isn’t so. Since US President Barack Obama announced to the world, earlier in the week, that his government had killed Osama, the “man responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women and children,” few representatives of the Sri Lankan government have been scampering to set the record straight. The state newspaper Daily News in its edition dated May 5, published a front page story quoting Sri Lanka’s Youth Affairs Minister Dullas Alahapperuma as saying, “Bin Laden can never be called the number one terrorist.” According to the news report, Mr Dullas felt that the US had “belittled” Sri Lankan government’s victory over the Tamil Tigers two years ago by calling Al-Qaeda ex-boss the world’s deadliest in that department. Prabhakaran, according to Mr Dullas, had killed more than Bin Laden. In statistical terms, he argued. The minister’s remarks were recently made, the newspaper said, at a Colombo University seminar. Visiting US assistant secretary of state (South Asia) Robert O’Blake perhaps offered solace to such sections by referring to both Al-Qaeda and LTTE as “ruthless” terror outfits. Mr Blake, ambassador to Sri Lanka from 2006 to 09, arrived here earlier this week after a visit to the troubled Maldives and discussed with Lankan authorities, political parties and the diplomatic community, the country’s post-war scenario. His visit came within days of the UN panel report to secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon on accountability issues in Sri Lanka’s civil war. During a press conference at the American Centre in Colombo on May 4, Mr Blake said that Washington attaches “great importance” to the dialogue between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil National Alliance. The TNA is the largest representative political group for Sri Lanka’s Tamil community in the north and east and was close to the LTTE before the war ended in May 2009.

Celebrating Tagore

A commemorative postal stamp of five Lankan rupees with Rabindranath Tagore’s image will be released here by the government on May 7, the poet’s 150th birth anniversary. Tagore last visited the island in 1934 when he laid the foundation of Sripalee College, 42 kilometres from Colombo and fashioned after the Visva Bharati University, Shantiniketan. During that visit, Tagore presented his play “Shapmochan” to an eminent audience including SWRD Bandaranaike who later – in 1956 – became prime minister. Members of Sri Lanka’s Tagore Society say some families with European names here gave them up to adopt names derived from “Indic traditions”. “So much was his influence”. Tagore authored the national anthems of India, Bangladesh and inspired Lankan musician Ananda Samarakoon to write “Namo Namo Matha,” which became the country’s national anthem in 1951. A decade later, the opening line of the national anthem was changed to “Sri Lanka Matha” by then government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike, SWRD’s widow and the world’s first woman head of state. Samarakoon had, it seems, thought of “Namo Namo Matha” in 1940 after the first glimpse of his country during a flight back from India. He was then studying music at Visva Bharati. The introduction of a new line in his original composition – allegedly without speaking with him – was said to have driven him to depression and subsequent suicide in 1962. At the moment though, the mood is joyous as governments of India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh along with three Sri Lankan universities and the Tagore Society celebrate Tagore through music, poetry and paintings.

Names matter

Two former cricket captains turned politicians have been alleging that match-fixing was commonplace in Sri Lanka. Hashan Tillakaratne recently went to the extent of saying that such dirty acts were doing the rounds since 1992. The country’s sole world cup winning captain Arjuna Ranatunga who had appeared in TV commercials to “keep cricket clean” prior to the championship this year, appeared to endorse Tillakaratne’s views. Last year, Ranatunga himself had made some noises about how match-fixing was crippling Sri Lankan cricket. But, like Tillakaratne, he too did not give out names. Following Tillakaratne’s remarks to the media, the Sports Ministry asked the Criminal Investigations Department to initiate an inquiry. The CID questioned him last week and wants him questioned again. Earlier last year, Colombo was flush with rumours of a CID inquiry involving other people at the behest of ICC’s anti-corruption unit but Sri Lanka Cricket denied knowledge of any such move.


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