Posted on September 5th, 2015

By Shelton A. Gunaratne

Professor of communication emeritus, MSUM, and lead author of Mindful Journalism and News Ethics in the Digital Era: A Buddhist Approach (New York: Routledge, 2015)

MOORHEAD, MN–As a mindful journalism practitioner and educator, I wish                    to show my thumbs up” approval to the selection of the Tamil National Alliance leader Rajavarothian Sampanthan, 82, as the Leader of the Opposition in Sri Lanka by the Speaker of the national Parliament.

Sampanthan was not in the Parliament at the time I was a Parliamentary reporter in the mid 1960s. He served as MP for Trincomalee from 1988 to 1993, and again from 2003, when he became the leader of the TNA. That no other politician procedurally challenged him (in spite of unofficial reports of support for UPA firebrand Kumar Welgama) for the position of Leader of the Opposition, although his alliance has only 16 seats in parliament, shows the confidence that most of the country’s politicians have in his ability restore ethnic amity and sanity in Sri Lanka.

I believe that my professional and academic qualifications and expertise permit me to express my views on public affairs without the editorial and political pressures that local journalists” have to suffer through.

I started mycareer in Ceylon as a journalist at Lake House from 1962 to 1966, after graduating from the University of Ceylon. I was the Ceylon Daily News reporter who covered Prime Minister Sirimavo Bndaranaike’s 1965 election campaign to take over Lake House. I left Ceylon after winning a one-year World Press Institute Fellowship. I changed my career and became a college professor in1972, when the University of Minnesota awarded me a doctorate in mass communication. I was the first Ceylonese/ Sri Lankan to get a PhD in this esoteric” field then unknown to universities in Sri Lanka.

Now, as a professor emeritus living in the United States in retirement, I reckon I have more time to pay back my debt to the people of my mother country for investing in my education that enabled me to become a global citizen. (See my book From Village Boy to Global Citizen,” 2012).

I hope the editors of the press in Sri Lanka will set aside whatever prejudices they may have against my perceived intrusion to their territory and allow me to express my views as a non-partisan mindful observer of events and newsmakers in Sri Lanka. I do so in response to President Sirisena’s call for Sri Lankan expatriates to contribute their expertise for the wellbeing of their mother country.

My intention is to practice mindful journalism by drawing attention to the positive as well asnegative aspects of the action of newsmakers in Sri Lanka. I will make my selections based on the three dimensions of the Buddhist middle path, the moral and ethical aspect of which is remarkably similar to the path of the Hindu dharma, Christian-Islamic Ten Commandments and the basic Confucian moral principles.

Now, back to my commentary.

Sampanthan is the second Tamil political leader to become the Leader of the Opposition in SriLanka. The first was Appapillai Amirthalingam of the Tamil United Liberation Front, the principal component of which was the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (Federal Party) formed by S. J. V. Chelvanayakam. Amirthalingam was Leader of the Opposition from 1977 to 1983. The Tigers assassinated him in 1989 together with two other TULF leaders.

Amirthalingam became the Leader of the Opposition during the initial period of Tiger terrorism in the island. He had to succumb to the wishes of the Tigers to push for a separate Eelam–a splitting of the country based on exaggerated grievances and claims. Sampanthan, a lawyer from the Trincomalee district, has become the national Leader of the Opposition under completely different political circumstances. Thanks to former President Rajapakse, peace has returned to the country.

The presidential and parliamentary elections of this year put a stop to the dictatorial tendencies of the Rajapakse regime, which has been replaced by the benevolent rule of a national government under the guidance of President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremasinghe representing the two main national political parties. A much milder TNA has assumed the role of the constructive opposition.

Thus, all the propitious circumstances are in place for initiating the implementation of a strong program with national reconciliation and reconstruction as its highest priority.

To make that happen, the TNA must now begin to discard its Tamil exclusivity and transform itself to a national party and approach all roadblocks for social and economic problems in terms of how they might impinge on every Lankan irrespective of ethnicity, religion, class orcaste. They must follow the advice that Lord Krishna, in the guise of a charioteer, gave warrior Arjuna as described in the Hindu sacred text Bhagavad Gita, which shows the path to liberation: freeing oneself from desires, from attachment, and from egoism.This is very similar to Buddha’s magga that requires one to control one’s craving and clinging–the root causes of suffering in the samsara (cyclic existence).

Krishna’s advice calls on the Hindu Tamils, who complain about discrimination by the Sinhalese, to discard their egoism and not put forth unrealistic demands based on their clinging on to past historical glory and rights. Nothing is static because of the law of karma, cardinal to both Buddhists and Hindus.  National reconciliation and integration is possible only by grasping the ground reality now–the present political, social, demographic and economic conditions.

Demanding the amalgamation of North and Eastern provinces (approximating one-third of theisland’s land mass, including most of its coastal belt) for the self-rule of the Sri Lanka Tamils (who constitute 12.3 percent of the island’s population), excluding the 850,000 Hill Country/Indian Tamils, will not bring about national integration, but rather provoke the Sinhalese, who understand federalism ascoterminous with separatism, to react negatively. Moreover, Tamil-speakers in Sri Lanka are themselves a hodgepodge of three distinct groups comprising the Northern, Eastern, and Negombo communities. Thus, the demand for an Eelam is a far-fetched ideal that the Tamils should not pursue at present.

The best course of action for Sampanthan to take should be to persuade the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (Federal Party), the main component of the TNA, to change its name to emphasize its commitment to national integration and create a consensus among the new coalition/national government about engendering unity in diversity.

The Tamils must grab this unexpected convergence of propitious political events to discard their divisive pursuit of a federal Eelam and go national for an inclusive government signifying diversity in unity.

The new government should educate all the ethnic groups in Sri Lanka on the positive aspects of diversity in unity. Sampanthan has the experience and the backing of the Hindu dharma and the Buddhist dhamma to begin this task by egging on the government with constructive criticism from the opposition.

Sampanthan also has the responsibility to calm down the unnecessary hoopla that the Northern Provincial council and its maverick chief minister are creating to bring down the credibility of the Sri Lanka government’s ability to conduct a domestic inquiry on the accusations relating to human rights violations.

It is not in the interest of the Tamil community at large to allow the Northern Provincial Council to pass resolutions inviting foreign powers to intervene in domestic matters by blatantly pretending itself to be independent of the country’s own democratically elected central government.

The current electoral system has already favored the TNA to become the largest minority party with 16 seats in the current parliament with the backing of a mere 514,963 voters in the North and the East whereas 543,944 voters outside this area enabled the Jatika Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) to get only six seats.

Sampanthan has to mull over all these matters as he tries torestore ethnic amity and sanity in a united Sri Lanka on the basis of Hindu and Buddhist principles that are quite pertinent to the modern world.


  1. Independent Says:

    In most countries electorate boundaries are made based on population. Why should one MP represent 10000 people and another 100000 people and have the same power and privileges.?

    What di our power craving, Papathara Presidents and Prime ministers of 60 + years created this mess , did not do anything about this ?
    They were interested increasing their salaries, car concessions, right of rape, right of stealing and right to retire (with huge pension) after five years of raping motherland.

    1977 Golden opportunity to clear the mess wasted.
    2010 even better opportunity wasted.
    Yet we are required to pay homage and show our gratitude to these buggers. For what reason ?

  2. charithsls Says:

    The issue here is people were hoodwinked by outside forces. The day someone (India,US,The West) came up with the idea of a National Unity government, it was to make the TNA, the main opposition. Our so called leaders (I think Chandrika & RW) fell for this willingly or unwillingly for their own personal glories. They knew throughout the election about this but did they tell to the masses when were talking about the National Govt, that Sampathan would be the opposition leader,no,they would have lost. That’s why this national govt or coalition govt is not going to survive as they have not got the mandate telling the truth.Your hossanas on Sampathan, look far, how long is he going to survive, now itself 82 (I wish him long years) so there will be a more radical chap. Look far Shelton.
    They have taken MR to ransom by the threat of prosecution ( from foreign masterminds )so there is no real opposition.
    Shelton, think,our problem is very different to many other issues & won’t be resolved by the meak ways you think from there,why the TamilNadu issue. Ours is not an issue between two groups who can resolve their problems with dialogue but with a group with overwhelming outside support & numbers.The threat of us becoming a Figi or a WI there with mass crossovers under the disguise of economic & cultural developments. Why the Bridge at such a cost, to help SL, do you think? Are they fantasies or real steps being taken? The demography is significantly at threat. See what the US & the West,in their so called master plans done destroying Iraq Libya & Syria, mass immigrations happening now.They have destroyed those countries by deposing the existing leaders & see the mess now. Now they did it in SL deposing MR,see what will happen in future?You or your whatever titles are helped by the US & West but at least in your retirement ,as you say, think with a passion for the country & be outspoken not restricted by ‘gratitude to your & your family welfare’.

  3. NeelaMahaYoda Says:

    I respectfully request you to avoid using the word bugger in your comments (these buggers) to Lankaweb, even though in Colonial Sri Lankan English this word is frequently spoken among students in Catholic schools.

    It may sound respectable for some and even call someone’s close friend as a bugger, but in international English it is a vulgar slang used as a term of abuse, especially for a man and can be even derogatory as a person who commits buggery (Anal intercourse. In law the term also covers bestiality -Sexual intercourse between a person and an animal).

    But in British English this vulgar slang is generally used as common phrases such as bugger all, bugger me, I am buggered off, not give a bugger, play silly buggers, well, I am buggered and bugger off give different meanings.

  4. cwije Says:

    Shelton G,

    R Sambandan wants a good solution that all can agree. You suggested that he drop the ITAK name. You pointed out the aggressive approach by Vigneswaran.

    Ranil W talks of Grama Raajya. Sambanadan talks of 3 to 5 regions. In the 1990s CBK and Neelan0GL packages talked about a union of regions.

    So what is a good spatial solution?

    Please see my essay on the blog below and give you comments.

    APRC and the Bio-regional Vision

    This essay was originally written in Feb 2009, 3 months before the war ended.


  5. Independent Says:

    OK, if you are offended I will do that.
    One of current good friends is a member of a very important commission conducting serious investigations and summoning bigwigs. He helps me a lot every time I visit SL. Two years ago he used the words “you can’t even imagine” when talking about corruption of politicians. I don’t know whether he would disclose to me anything but I am going to ask him soon I meet him again. I haven’t met such a hard working government servant in my life any where in the world (including Singapore). Why can’t these people be given opportunity to control ministers than ministers controlling them ?
    This is why I can feel for people like CWIJE trying so hard even from overseas.
    I also should meet my old friend BOI boss this time and see what he has to say. Don’t trust any b— –form Low College though.

  6. Independent Says:

    Shelton Ayya,
    This is not the way Sampanthan should become OL. He is 82. He can’t do anything. It is a symbolic gesture to brainless Tamil supporters and Rajapakse haters.
    He must have abandoned communal politics and joined a main party and earned this position at a younger age (like Kadiargamar) to do some service to his community and the country.
    Our stupid politicians from all parties are still engaging trying to fool international brains. It failed horribly and it will fail in the future too.

    People do not know the real happiness. At least as a worldly happiness, highest is the Anajvjja Sukha ( or happiness earned my not doing evil or PAApa kamma). Someone had the opportunity become a Sakviti Raja but fell to Thanha Aaasa and will definitely be born in Roruwa Hell. That is how unfortunate the political power is.
    Most of all, company of people with Avijjaa at home and outside the home brought him that fate. Kalyanamittata is such a great gift.

  7. Independent Says:

    Shelton Ayya,
    You have a such a great Kalyanamitta at home, not need to be a Sinhala one. You are lucky and your writing shows it.

  8. Ananda-USA Says:

    In a TOTALLY IMPARTIAL statement (!!!) the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (aka DMK) chimes in that R Sampanthan as Leader of the Opposition gives Hope to Tamils!!

    But, the QUESTION IS, HOPE of WHAT??

    An impending CREATION of an Independent EELAM in Sri Lanka soon to be INCORPORATED in DMK’s Vision of a GREATER TAMIL NADU perhaps?

    Hey,dear old Karunanidhi has prepared and published the PLANS for this GREATER TAMIL NADU including the North and East of Sri Lanka LONG LONG TIME AGO! All the DMK has to do is to present PLANS with a note to the Yamapalanaya Govt to VACATE the LAND and MOVE OUT forthwith! I am SURE that TREACHEROUS Yamapalanaya Junta will be HAPPY to OBLIGE!

    Meanwhile, the OPPOSING FACTION, the MDMK, under the leadership of that unrepentant INCURABLY communal racist Vaiko is bringing a Resolution against a domestic probe of the war-crimes allegations against Sri Lanka in favor of an international probe more helpful to his getting UN assistance for a Unilateral Declaration of Independence for the EELAM that his late unlamented hero, the SunGod Vellupillai Prabhakaran, failed to achieve through murderous war.

    NEEDLESS to say, this Yamapalanaya Govt WILL NOT request extradition of this very same Vaiko to Sri Lanka, to stand trial for illegally entering Sri Lanka and “teaching” motivational classes to the brainwashed LTTE cadre in the Vanni. when he was not busy plotting other crimes against Sri Lanka with the now defunct Sun God!

    We NEED a Patriotic Government in Sri Lanka both ABLE & WILLING to PUSH BACK against India, to pursue these CHARGES against the MULTITUDE of Eelamist INdian Tamil criminals hiding out in Tamil Nadu! These are INTERNATIONAL CRIMINALS no different from the also late and unlamented Osama bin Laden!

    R Sampanthan as Lankan opposition leader gives hope: DMK

    Sept 05 (TOI) CHENNAI- DMK President M Karunanidhi today welcomed the appointment of Tamil National Alliance leader R Sampanthan as the Leader of Opposition in Sri Lankan Parliament, saying it has given hope for the Tamils in the island nation.

    “Sampanthan being elected Leader of the Opposition at a time when Tamils were for long looking forward to a resurgence gives us all hope,” he said in a statement here.

    Greeting the Tamil leader on his being chosen for the important post, he said, “Sampanthan has said that the TNA would strive for getting Tamils their rights and powers and it gives joy.”

    “It is joyous that a Tamil has become Leader of the Opposition in Sri Lanka after a gap of 38 years,” he said.

    Sampanthan heads the TNA sine 2001 and he has been a Member of Parliament for more than 22 years.

    TNA comprises Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK), Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation(TELO), the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) and the People’sLiberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE).

    Indian Tamil party leader to bring resolution against Sri Lanka’s domestic probe

    Sept 04, Colombo: The pro-LTTE Tamil Nadu political leader, the general secretary of the MDMK, V. Gopalasamy aka Vaiko has asked the chief Minister of Tamil Nadu J. Jayalalithaa to bring a resolution against a domestic probe in Sri Lanka.

    The MDMK leader has called upon the Chief Minister Jayalalithaa to initiate steps to pass a resolution in the Assembly opposing any move to carry out a domestic investigation into the alleged war crimesin Sri Lanka, The Hindu reported.

    “If such a resolution is passed, I will be the first person to support the same,” he has said while paying a lightning visit to the site near Palladam where the party planned to hold a conference later this month.

    Mr. Vaiko told The Hindu that only an inquiry by an independent non-domestic body could bring out justice and truth.

  9. Ananda-USA Says:

    UPFA DISSENTING MPs …. 57 strong and a MAJORITY in the UPFA … voice their INTENT to form an Opposition block consistent with the UPFA ELECTION PLATFORM that rejected support for a National Yamapalanaya Govt, and declare their INTENT to CONTEST the appointment of TNA’s Sampanthan as Leader of the Opposition!

    Jayawewa! With this STRENGTH in the number of DISSENTING MPs HOPE SPRINGS in the HEARTS of Patriots that it may augur the formation of a NEW PATRIOTIC OPPOSITION Party in the future!

    Better still, the SLFP should AMEND its Party Constitution to REMOVE the requirement that the President of the Nation MUST be the Leader of the Party. With such an AMENDMENT, the SLFP can say GOODBYE to the TREACHEROUS BACKSTABBER Somarama Sirisena, LEAVE the Yamapalanaya GoSL and STOP ALL of its Anti-National moves to amend the Constitution to favor separatists, other minorities, NGOs and neocolonialist foreign powers now gathering like vultures to DISMEMBER Sri Lanka.

    If such a SCENARIO UNFOLDS, EVERYTHING BECOMES POSSIBLE, and the Yamapalanaya Govt’s days will be numbered.

    RISE UP in your MILLIONS …. O Patriotic Sons ad Daughters of Mother Lanka to RESCUE your Motherland PEACEFULLY and LEGALLY from the grasp of its ARTFUL ENEMIES who are attempting to STEAL your ancestral inheritance by MISLEADING & MISDIRECTING you!

    NEVER TRUST those who have FAILED to FIGHT for your Motherland, and now try to PREACH PATRIOTIC HOMILIES to you to BEND you to their WILL!

    UPFA rebels to function as independent group in House

    By Rasika Somarathna
    September 07, 2015

    A 57-member dissident faction within the UPFA will function as an independent group in Parliament after defying the party decision to form a national government.

    Former Chief Minister of Western Province Prasanna Ranatunga who entered Parliament on the UPFA ticket at the last election, said the UPFA rebels who has the support of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, will also discuss the appointment of TNA’s R. Sampanthan as the Opposition Leader with the Speaker and President Maithripala Sirisena who is both the head of the UPFA and the SLFP.

    According to Ranatunga, a majority of UPFA MPs (57 out of the 96) had informed President Sirisena in writing to appoint Kalutara district SLFP parliamentarian Kumara Welgama as the Opposition Leader.Speaking at a public ceremony in Gampaha yesterday, Ranatunga said since the SLFP central committee had given powers to the President to appoint the Opposition Leader they had not made any submissions to the Speaker.

    Ranatunga said the UPFA team will also discuss the matter with the Speaker when Parliament convenes on September 22.

    While noting that the Speaker had informed his group that he had received a letter from the newly appointed UPFA General Secretary Vishwa Warnapala that the party will not contest the post as it had agreed to join the UNP to form a national government, Ranatunga said there must have been a communication gap between the party Chairman and the General Secretary.

    The MP said the UPFA did not have a mandate to form a national government as the party had not voiced any such aims to the voters at the last parliamentary polls.

    Ranatunga said that Sampanthan’s appointment do have both good and bad sides. He said the TNA has not deviated from its position of seeking federalism as a means to devolving power and also its stance for an international probe against Sri Lanka to make a determination on the so-called human rights violations during the war.

    Ranatunga was of the view that if there is an investigation against the alleged violations done by security forces the same should apply with regards to the atrocities committed by the LTTE.

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