“Gota’s War” ‘a hagiographic monograph’?
Posted on January 26th, 2021

By Rohana R. Wasala Courtesy Sunday Island

Signs are that anti-Sri Lanka forces at home and abroad are already gearing up for a wishfully devastating diplomatic assault on the country during the forthcoming 46th session of the UNHRC in Geneva in March 2021. Politicizing the artificial burial issue and the innocuous ‘peniya’ to resist/treat Covid-19 and blaming it all on the government is one form of attack that uses distortion of facts and disinformation as weapons. Which side stands to gain by politicizing these ‘problems’  would be obvious to any dispassionate observer. The implicit charges of racist discrimination against minorities  (trampling on their religious rights by banning burial) and reliance on shamanism instead of proper scientific medicine in battling the Covid pandemic do not hold water. 

It was on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes and human rights violation allegations against Sri Lanka that, in October 2015, the UNHRC in Geneva unanimously adopted Resolution 30/1 co-sponsored by the infamous Yahapalana regime. The UN body reinforced this with two other subsequent resolutions: Resolution 34/1 in March 2017 and Resolution 40/1 in March 2019, the last even after the US, the main sponsor of 30/1, left the HRC, having condemned it as a ‘cesspool of political bias’! (The United States withdrew from the UNHRC in June 2018). Four uncalled for mechanisms were to be set up under these resolutions: a judicial mechanism with a special counsel, an office on missing persons, an office for reparations, and a commission for truth and justice. Only the second and third (offices on missing persons and reparations respectively) have been established. Of the four only the OMP is deemed operational.

The movers and shakers at Geneva looking forward to the 46th session of the UNHRC in March  to engage with Sri Lanka cannot ignore the implications of this humiliating electoral pratfall of their protege in Colombo. The new Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardane officially informed the UNHRC of Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from the co-sponsorship of the aforementioned UN resolutions based on totally unsubstantiated allegations. He said this while addressing the UNHRC session at Geneva in February 2020. The minister told the meeting that the 2009-2015 government had established domestic mechanisms to address a variety of issues including alleged war crimes, accountability, rule of law, and human rights issues, but that the Yahapalana regime abandoned those homegrown mechanisms.

Feeding the anti-Sri Lanka propaganda campaign that is gathering momentum ahead of the Geneva session, Rajan Philips (RP) (‘President Rajapaksa and his 13A dilemmas’/Sunday Island/January 3, 2021) wrote about two weeks ago: ‘……no one can do worse than CA Chandraprema’s attempt to rewrite history, as he did in his hagiographic monograph, Gota’s War.” We can anticipate versions of it to be undiplomatically broadcast from Geneva from March onward’ (‘President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his 13A dilemmas’/Sunday Island/January 3, 2021). RP is launching a quixotic preemptive strike at Chandraprema, who was appointed as Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka at Geneva in November 2020. What can a biased scribe like RP do other than verbally discredit what he can’t rationally disprove? (because Chandraprema’s history of Sri Lanka’s war against Tamil Tiger separatist terrorism ‘Gota’s War’ is a record of solid facts, while being a well supported commendation of Gotabaya and his achievements in that war (or even a hagiography in RP’s sarcastic phraseology, if you like) crammed with facts.

RP quotes, out of context though, from KM de Silva’s ‘A History of Sri Lanka’ (1981) to suggest that Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike’s opposition to a federal constitution in 1956 involved the abandonment of an earlier contrary view of the matter that he had held:  it was a grim irony that he (i.e., Bandaranaike) should be called upon, at the moment of his greatest political triumph, to articulate the strong opposition of the Sinhalese to any attempt to establish a federal constitution.” Actually, RP’s is a false implication drawn from KM de Silva’s personal reflections or sentiments in that context. 

What I remember as having read in the particular book is that the Kandyan members of the State Council on the eve of independence demanded a separate unit of administration (something that smacked of federalism) for the Upcountry because it had suffered special disabilities during the colonial times and could not expect a fair deal under a structure that didn’t recognize this. But the proposal must have been immediately shot down, because the Sinhalese looked upon the whole of the island as their single homeland of Sinhale, as they had done over millennia, despite numerous foreign invasions (from South India and later Europe) and occupations, the last of which was by the British, and a federalist notion was a contradiction of that unitary ideal. The Kandyans’  quasi federalist idea was much less menacing than what it means today: a hop, step, and jump to separation. 

As RP later indicates, the quote comes from Chapter 36 titled The Triumph of Linguistic Nationalism” of de Silva’s book. RP seems to indulge in some empty rhetoric: The quote might suggest that the historian was having his academic tongue in his political cheek, but it reads far superior to anything that a geographer seems to be able to politically offer 40 years later. And this is not because Sri Lanka has too much history and too little geography.” The geographer meant here is Prof. GH Peiris, whose well argued case against the PC system titled ‘Province-based Devolution in Sri Lanka: a Critique’ was published in two parts in The Island issues of December 16 and 17. RP’s summary dismissal of the scholarly essay as ‘Midweek fury’ does not do justice to his own general knowledge or his common sense.  To claim that the quote from de Silva reads far superior to anything that a geographer seems to be able to politically offer 40 years later” is sheer nonsense, but RP tries to justify his summary dismissal of Sri Lanka’s history by stating that this is not because Sri Lanka has too much history and too little geography”. The unintended ambiguity emphasizes the truth that he  wants to obliterate:it is the truth that Sri Lanka has a well authenticated history that is far out of proportion to the relatively small size of its geographical territory. It is not the fault of the Sinhalese that detractors are not cultured enough to recognize the greatness of their very long history and their unique civilizational achievements recorded in ancient books and in rock inscriptions, many dating back to centuries BCE. 

To return to RP’s reference to ‘Gota’s War’, which mainly provoked this reply, former Island columnist C.A. Chandraprema (but he was much more than that careerwise) has all the qualities that a successful diplomat  should possess according to Robert D. Blackwill, Director, Harvard University’s Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Cambridge, USA. Some of these that Chandraprema has incidentally demonstrated in the course of his journalism are: good writing ability, an analytical mind, verbal fluency and conciseness, attentiveness to detail, perspicacity in policy review, insight into relevant political ideology. Of the fifteen positive qualities that Blackwill enumerates, the eleventh is ‘be loyal and truthful to your boss’. The ‘boss’ is of course the government of the country that accredits the diplomat. Chandraprema is definitely not going to face the embarrassment that our excellent career diplomats at Geneva had to face under Yahapalanaya. Love of the country the official represents should be added to Blackwill’s list as yet another essential quality in a good diplomat. Chandraprema possesses this in abundance. We already have patriotic career diplomats there who weathered through the difficult period while the Yahapalanaya ruled at home.  With them, Chandraprema will be a formidable presence in Geneva to take on disguised eelam propagandists. 

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