Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Laying the Foundation for an Asian Commonwealth

The election of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of India has resulted in a flurry of diplomatic activity in Asia. This despite tension developing between China and Japan on the one hand and China and some Southeast Asian countries on the other hand. The focus has not been limited to one area in particular but can be seen in a wide geographical swathe from South Asia, Southeast Asia and East Asia.

On May 26, 2014, when Narendra Modi took oaths as the Indian Prime Minister, he invited the leaders of South Asian Association on Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to grace the occasion. Critics might have seen this as an overlord calling his vassals for the crowning ceremony. While someone can easily define it as a step to assert India’s hegemony in the region, it was more about announcing its presence and the opening of a new chapter. The Congress-led government of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) had played second fiddle to the United States even in regional policies, which had allowed China to establish itself in South Asia stronger than ever before. India had to re-define and re-establish its role and status in South Asia.
Some of the recent diplomatic visits

For Modi, it was his first exercise in international diplomacy as Prime Minister and he chose the best way possible, choosing neighbors for first engagement. Modi was laying the ground for bigger things for India in the world.  What the UPA demonstrated is that such a role will never devolve to India by appeasing Washington.  If India wants have a larger-than-South-Asia presence then it would have to be about “all-alignment rather than non-alignment” to paraphrase Prof. Madhav Das Nalapat from Manipal University. The BJP government wants to benefit from all whenever possible. Meanwhile, it also expects to forge a stronger alliance of regional powers. The BJP has mooted a new “Asian Commonwealth” as a regional bloc.

During the past few months, the BJP government has been engaged in heightened diplomatic activity.  Modi, as Prime Minister, chose Bhutan and Nepal as his first destinations overseas. He was in Brazil for the BRICS summit which announced the formation of a new bank. Meanwhile, a lot of lower level engagement was seen in many Asian countries, with BJP delegations visiting countries such as Sri Lanka and Singapore.

The diplomatic traffic became more frenzied a few weeks ago. Narendra Modi visited Japan, where he was warmly welcomed by his counterpart, Shinzo Abe. Modi continued to develop his image with visits to places of cultural importance and even schools, to couple with business meetings and diplomatic negotiations. There was nothing of the hard power that Modi is known for. Modi wore a rarely seen soft-power countenance, even tweeting about places like the Kinkaku-ji, important to the Japanese people.

Modi arrived in Japan against the backdrop of heightened Sino-Japanese differences. PM Abe had added to the tension by hinting at military expansion, even going to the extent of ‘reinterpreting’ Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution. China was not quiet on the diplomatic front either. In early July, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited South Korea in a move clearly designed to impress both North Korea and Japan.

However, immediately following Modi’s visit to Japan, the Japanese PM visited South Asia, landing in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in landmark visits. Abe’s visits were framed by increased Chinese involvement in the region. He focused more on the economic front and was less interested in security aspects.

Meanwhile, days after Abe’s visit, the Chinese President made a three country South Asian tour, visiting Maldives, Sri Lanka and India. Incidentally, Xi Jinping arrived in Gujarat, home state of Narendra Modi, on the 64th birthday of the latter. Thereby, the Indian Prime Minister not only had warm interaction with the head of the world’s third largest economy (Shinzo Abe) but also had the man at the helm of the world’s second largest economy as a guest on his birthday.

Thus the last few weeks have seen top level interaction between Modi and the leaders of Japan and China and between Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the leaders of Japan and China. Incidentally, both India and Sri Lanka have been strengthening their ties with the world’s second and third largest economies, irrespective of the fact that relations between China and Japan are tense and those between India and China are not that hot either. 

Meanwhile, in other diplomatic moves, Myanmar President Thein Sein visited Beijing in late June, a few days before Xi Jinping visited South Korea. Meanwhile in late August, President Xi visited Mongolia. On September 1, 2014, the Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Chinese Vice-Premier launched a new natural gas pipeline from Russia’s Siberia to China.

Furthermore, leaders of China, Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan gathered in Tajikistan for the meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, where President Xi met with his counterparts from Russia and Mongolia and suggested a three party economic corridor.China has also been putting forward a proposal for a ‘21st Century Maritime Silk Route’ which could boost economic cooperation between countries from West Asia to East Asia. While there can be some resistance from certain Southeast Asian nations given the recent tensions with China, the proposal has been welcomed by both the Maldives and Sri Lanka.

While the Chinese President was touring South Asia, Nanning, the capital of China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region held the 11th China-ASEAN Expo. National and business leaders from China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) discussed business and the Maritime Silk Route (MSR). Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Thai Deputy Prime Minister Tanasak Patimapragorn expressed positive views of the MSR.

As such, China is in effect, building a Chinese-Centered Asian Commonwealth, mainly in commercial aspects, promoting business cooperation initiatives. They include many parts of Asia, and a successful MSR will incorporate even East Africa where China is also establishing its presence. India cannot sit idle in this process and Modi has shown that his government will not.

Interestingly, the Western powers have looked to create an image in the media of antagonism between China and India, speaking of a Chinese “string of pearls” surrounding India. This was complemented by highlighting border disputes between the two countries. However, as Prof. Nalapat once mentioned at a lecture in Sri Lanka, “not a single bullet has been fired across the border in the last fifty years.” What BJP aspires to is an Asian communal feeling based primarily on economic ties. The most crucial step in this is to build “people to people relations” and increasing economic ties between China and India.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Quiz with Chamara Sumanapala. Part 20: Football World Cup 1950-54

The Football World Cup was not held in 1942 and 1946 due to the Second World War. Even in 1950, many countries were reluctant to take part in the event. Europe was devastated and was still rebuilding. Political differences had also arisen, with the Eastern European countries joining the Soviet camp. The tournament went to South America, to its largest country, Brazil. However, Argentina pulled out due to differences with the Brazilian Football Association and some other countries withdrew due to financial issues and other problems. Only 13 countries ultimately turned up.

In 1954, the tournament was back in Europe, in the small European country of Switzerland. Not ravaged by war, Switzerland was the ideal place to stage the tournament. It saw some novelties in football and some rough games as well.
Huge crowds at the Maracana were to be shocked that day in 1950

1. The 1950 World Cup had only one debutant to the tournament. It was a strange debutant, given the history of the game of football. However, as it was, this country had not played in any of the three tournaments before. Strangely enough, this team made an unceremonious exit from the tournament after going down 0-1 against the United States which was composed mainly of amateur players. However, within 20 years, this country had even won a World Cup. What is this country?

2. The 1950 tournament was the only World Cup without a final game. A final group of four countries was selected and the winner of this group was to be given the World Cup. This system had not been used in any tournament before, or afterwards. Nevertheless, the final game of the final group effectively became a final. In the still unfinished Maracana Stadium, an estimated crowd of 200,000 people watched Uruguay face the hosts Brazil. Uruguay had to win the game and Brazil only had to ensure that the game was drawn. But, even with the immense crown support, Brazil was defeated by Uruguay, with a score of 1-2. Maracana Stadium has been renovated and today can accommodate a much less crowd. It will host the 2014 World Cup final as well. In which city is the stadium located?

3. The 1954 tournament saw the advent of the “Aranycsapat” or the Golden Team from Hungary, which was the favorite team to win the tournament. It was led by a legendary footballer, a striker named Ferenc Puskas. In the quarterfinals, they met a South American team and their game is famous not for the gamesmanship but the rough playing by both sides. Indeed, the game was dubbed, “the Battle of Berne.” Hungary won it 4-2. Which country was defeated in this game?

4. Hungary faced the much less fancied West Germany in Berne in the final. In Germany, this game is known as “the Miracle of Berne.” Earlier in the tournament, Hungary had dispatched West Germany by 8-3. But, the German coach, a far thinking man, had not played his best team, knowing that they would lose even if he had. By the time the final came, Hungary was weakened from injuries as Puskas himself was injured. Therefore, the West Germans exploited this weakness to make a miracle on that day, July 4, 1954. The final score was 3-2 to Germany. Who was the West German coach in this tournament?

5. The 1954 tournament remains the World Cup tournament where the highest number of goals per match was scored. In 26 matches, a staggering 140 goals were scored with an average of 5.38 per game. The quarterfinal between the hosts Switzerland and another neighboring country saw 12 goals scored. The hosts lost the game 5-7. Which country defeated them in this game?

Answers to Quiz 19: Mehmed II the Conqueror

1. Leo III
2. Constantine XI
3. Murad II
4. Janissaries
5. Dracula

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Quiz with Chamara Sumanapala. Part 19: Mehmed II the Conqueror

Some of the sultans who led the Ottoman Empire were excellent military leaders known for their exploits in the battlefield. Sultan Mehmed II the best known military leader among them and is known as ‘the conqueror’ for the most important conquest in the history of the Ottoman Empire. It was the capture of the Byzantine capital Constantinople.
Sultan Mehmed II enters Constantinople, painting by Fausto Zonaro

Located in the strategic point at the meeting place of Asia and Europe, it was the nerve center of East-West trade. Also, it was the nerve center of Byzantine Empire, the successor of the Roman Empire. The capture of the city was the dream of Arab rulers in the early days of the Arab Empire and later of the Turks. By the 15th century, the Byzantine Empire and its capital Constantinople were both past its glory. It was besieged by Ottoman forces led by the 21 year old Sultan Mehmed II (Born on March 30, 1432) on April 6. The city fell on May 29.

During the initial years of Mehmed II’s rule, the Ottoman Empire saw rapid expansion into both Asia Minor and Europe. Apart from Constantinople, he captured Morea, Serbia, Bosnia, Wallachia and Trebizond.

1. Arabs attempted to capture the city of Constantinople centuries before the Turks, on two occasions in the 7th and 8th centuries AD. The second attempt was undertaken from August 717, but was thwarted by the military genius of the new Byzantine emperor. He had ascended the Imperial Throne in March 717 and ruled the empire until his death in 741. Who was this emperor?

2. The last emperor of the Byzantine Empire ascended the throne in 1449 and died on May 29, 1453 at the end of the siege of Constantinople. What was his name?

3. Sultan Mehmed II was the son of another famous Ottoman emperor who was known for several successes in battles, including the Second Battle of Kosovo. He ruled the Ottoman Empire from 1421 till 1451, except for a brief period between 1444-1446 when he handed over the throne to his young son and retreated from public life. But Mehmed II forced his father back to rule the empire. It is said that initially his father refused the request by Mehmed II to return to the throne. Angry at his father, Mehmed II had written him a letter stating “If you are the Sultan lead your armies. If I’m the sultan, I order you to lead my armies.” The father had no option but to comply. Who was the father of Mehmed II?

4. The elite forces of the Ottoman Army were trained from a young age. Christian boys were recruited at an age as young as seven or eight and went through rigorous training to transform them into an elite force. They took part in many battles including the fall of Constantinople until they were abolished in 1826. By which name were these elite troops known?

5. Mehmed II also undertook many more military expeditions. He personally led many of his campaigns and relied on artillery unlike any military commander before. Vlad III was a ruler of a region called Wallachia and was known for his extreme cruelty. Several years after the fall of Constantinople, Vlad III unsuccessfully tried to stop Wallachia from being overrun by the Ottomans led by Mehmed II. Vlad III became the basis of the lead character in a novel written by an Irish novelist and published in 1897. Who is this extremely famous fictional character?

Answers to Quiz 18: Football World Cup 1934-38

1. Spain
2. Egypt
3. Oldrich Nejedly
4. Leonidas (Leonidas da Silva)
5. Latvia

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Quiz with Chamara Sumanapala. Part 18: Football World Cup 1934-1938

After the first edition of the Football World Cup in 1930, the next edition moved to Europe. Italy hosted the tournament and its dictator Benito Mussolini utilized this opportunity for his propaganda work as well. World Champions Uruguay did not defend the title, becoming the only country to-date to have not defended the football world cup. Unlike the 1930 edition, this edition required teams to qualify for the tournament. For the first and only occasion, even the hosts had to qualify. Italy won the world cup in home soil, defeating Czechoslovakia in the final 2-1.

In 1938, the tournament was hosted by France. However, since South American countries expected the tournament to rotate between Europe and their continents, they led a boycott. Only Brazil and Cuba participated from the Americas and Asia was represented by Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). Italy defended the title, defeating Hungary 4-2 in the final.
The final in 1938

1. In early world cup tournaments, if a match in an eliminating round ended in a draw, a replay game had to be played to determine the winners. In one quarter-final, Italy, the eventual champions, were held to a 1-1 draw by another European country. Italy won the replay 1-0. What is this other country?

2. The 1934 World Cup saw one place allocated to countries from Asia and Africa. An African country qualified to take part in the tournament, but was defeated by Hungary 2-4. This team was coached by James McCrea, a Scottish footballer. What is this country?

3. In 1934, the top goal scorer in the football world cup was a Czechoslovak striker, who scored five goals including a hat-trick against Germany in the semi-final. Earlier, he was credited with only four goals and was the joint top scorer. But in 2006, the International Federation of Football Associations (FIFA) awarded him another goal, making him the top scorer. In 1938, he scored 2 goals in the world cup. This striker, a native of Prague, is one of the best Czechoslovak players ever. Who was he?

4. The “bicycle kick” is physical move made by throwing the body up into the air, making a shearing movement with the legs to get one leg in front of the other without holding on to the ground. Several players have been attributed as inventors of the kick, but it was popularized by a striker from Brazil. Known as “The Rubber Man”, he scored the only goal Brazil scored in the 1934 Football World Cup. In 1938, he scored seven goals, becoming the best scorer of the tournament. Who was he?

5. Austria qualified for the 1938 World Cup. However, before the tournament opened in June, Germany annexed Austria in March 1938. Austria had to pull out of the tournament and some Austrian players played for Germany. Another small European country had been at the second place in the qualification group from which Austria had qualified. However, this country was not invited to take part in the world cup instead of Austria. It later became a part of the Soviet Union and became independent only after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. This country has still not taken part in a FIFA World Cup final tournament. What is this country?

Answers for Quiz 17: Crimean War (1853-56)

1. Sinope
2. Sevastopol
3. The Thin Red Line
4. Alfred, Lord Tennyson
5. Scutari

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Lankatilaka Raja Maha Viharaya

Kandy was not the first capital of Sri Lanka situated in Central Highlands. More than 250 years before Sri Lankan kings established their final capital in Kandy, Gampola became the capital of the kingdom. It is true that Gampola period was not so long. But, it gave us some of the best preserved and famous religious sites in the island. Lankatilaka Raja Maha Viharaya is one such place.

Lankatilaka Viharaya is one of the three famous temples near Peradeniya which are associated with the Gampola period. When travelling from Colombo to Kandy, you’ll come to Pilimathalawa, 104 kilometers from Colombo. Turn left to Daulagaha road and travel four kilometers along this road. You’ll come to Hiyarapitiya village, where the temple is located.

The Lankatilaka Viharaya is said to have been built in 1344 by the Chief Minister, Senalankadhilankara, on the orders of King Buwanekabahu IV. The king, who ruled the island from 1341 to 1353, had moved the capital to Gampola. He must have commissioned the temple as a means to convince the people of the area that he is a good, devout monarch.

South Indian architect Sthapati Rayar has designed the image house of the temple, the most prominent landmark at Lankatilaka Viharaya. According to late Professor Senarat Paranavitana, he had blended Sinhalese architecture of Polonnaruwa period and Dravidian and Indo Chinese styles in designing the building. The name itself recalls the Lankatilaka image house at Polonnaruwa, which is one of the three famous image houses in that ancient city. Furthermore, the image house is considered to have followed the Gedige type architecture of Polonnaruwa period.

The image house is built on an uneven rock surface, on a foundation made of stone. The building has been made of brick. Earlier, it is said to have been a four storey building. Today, only the first storey and a part of the second storey remain. One can imagine what a sight it must have been all those years ago, when it was even taller.

The approach to the Buddha Image house is from the vihara facing the Eastern side which is the approach from the flight of stone steps. There is a Moonstone or a Sandakadapahana at the steps leading into the temple. Two Balustrades (Korawakgalas) of Gajasinha (Elephant-Lion) design is erected by the sides of the steps leading to arched doorway. The outer Dragon arch or the Makara Torana has unique features, making it very special. Inside the arched doorway, paintings of two Lion figures can be seen. Inside the image house is a Seated Buddha statue with a Makara Torana above the image. The paintings from Suvisi Vivarana are painted in the surrounding walls of the image house. These paintings are from Kandy period. (18th century)
Suvisi Vivaranaya

Sinhalese in Central Highlands have a unique lifestyle, even today. They worship the Buddha and they also have a number of deities. In Gampola period, this was even more evident. Lankatilaka Temple has devales for several deities. God Kumara Bandara is considered to be the god whom the temple was entrusted to.

Pics: Dr. Irantha Karunaratne

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Quiz with Chamara Sumanapala. Part 17: The Crimean War (1853-56)

The recent crisis in Ukraine has moved its epicenter to the Crimean Peninsula in the south of that country. Crimea was the epicenter of a terrible war involving several European powers in the 1850s. It was the first major war involving major European powers after the fall of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815. The crisis erupted over the religious sites of the Holy Land, which was then under the Ottoman Turkish rule. The Russians wanted to guarantee the rights of the Orthodox Christian pilgrims there. However, underlying this was the Russian expansionism, aimed at the weakening Ottoman Empire. On the other hand, major European powers wanted to contain Russian expansion to the Mediterranean Sea.
William Simpson’s painting “The Charge of the Light Brigade”

1. One of the initial battles of the war was fought in November 1853, when the Russian Black Fleet under Admiral Pavel Nakhimov attacked a Turkish naval force and defeated it, inflicting heavy casualties. In which Black Sea port in Turkey did this battle took place?

2. After the initial battles between the Russians and the Turks in Danube area, the war moved to Crimea. From then onwards, even though fighting took place in several other fronts, the main attention was on Crimea. The main objective of the allies (England, France, Turkey and Sardinia) was to capture the largest city in Crimea, which was the home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet. The Allies stumbled on pathetically. Their planning was faulty, they were not prepared for the Russian Winter and they generally under-estimated the Russians. For a year, the city held on, falling on September 9, 1855. Later in history, this city became famous for resisting the Nazi German forces during the Second World War. What is this city?

3. During the Crimean War, the main Allied supply head quarters was at Balaclava, a town in Crimea. (The town gave the name to the cloth masks which covers the head, exposing only a part, mainly the eyes). Russians assaulted the town on October 25, 1854 to disrupt the Allied supplies. The Allies defended successfully. Two British units became famous for their bravery at the battle. One unit was the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders Regiment of Foot, which successfully rebuffed a Russian cavalry attack, despite being outnumbered. This action is known by a particular term, which is also a figure of speech to English language. It is used to describe a thinly spread military unit holding off an attack. This term also refers to the color of the British military coat, red. What is this term?

04. Another heroic action of the British Army at the Battle of Balaclava was the “Charge of the Light Brigade” when a light cavalry brigade launched to attack a well defended position of the Russian Army. This is often cited as one of the best examples of military discipline. The attack itself was totally foolish, since light cavalry could hardly hope to dislodge a well defended artillery position. This action was immortalized by the poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” Who wrote the famous poem?

05. One positive outcome of the Crimean War was the establishment of modern nursing. It was Florence Nightingale, “the Lady with the lamp” who initiated this. Arriving at the Selimiye Barracks in Turkey, which had been allocated to the British during the war, she found the conditions at the military hospital appalling. Medications were limited, staff was overworked and the problems were confounded by official indifference. The region where the Selimiye Barracks was located is a district in Istanbul. Today this district is known as Uskudar. But during the Crimean War, this district was known by another name. What was the name of this district during the Crimean War?

Answers to Quiz 16: Football World Cup 1930

1. Jules Rimet
2. Montevideo
3. Carol II of Romania
4. Bert Petenaude
5. Francisco Varallo

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Quiz with Chamara Sumanapala. Part 16: Football World Cup 1930

Today, football (or soccer) is the most popular sport in the world. It is correct to say that people of all countries take part in this sport. Therefore, the FIFA Football World Cup, organized by the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) is the largest international sports event after the Olympic Games. The 2014 FIFA World Cup will be held in June-July 2014 in Brazil.
Estadio Centanario (Centenary Stadium) in Uruguay

There was no need for a separate football world cup before 1930, since the football tournament in the Olympic Games served as an effective football world cup. However, by late 1920s, there were differences arising between the International Olympic Committee and FIFA. The main differences came about concerning the amateur status of the players. With the popularity of football, professional players were emerging and due to the rules of the Olympics, they could not participate in the tournament. Then, it was announced that the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics will not have football at all. With this, FIFA decided to have a separate world cup.

1. The third president of FIFA, who held the title from 1921 to 1954, took the initiative in holding the first ever FIFA World Cup. Born in 1873 in Eastern France, he held the presidency of French Football Federation during 1919-1946 too. In 1904, he was involved in the founding of FIFA. He died in 1956, after seeing his initiative become a world scale event. Who was he?
The FIFA President (1921-1954) who initiated the World Cup

2. The 1930 FIFA World cup was held in Uruguay. There were several other candidates who wanted to host the tournament. But, Uruguay was chosen for several reasons. It was the Centenary Year of the country, as Uruguay had passed its first Constitution in 1830. Uruguay was the current Olympic Champions in football. Furthermore, Uruguay agreed to pay the transport cost of all participating teams. This World Cup was the only one held in a single city, the capital of Uruguay. Even now, about one third of the inhabitants of Uruguay live in the capital city. What is the capital of Uruguay?

3. Thirteen countries took part in the 1930 Football World Cup, but only four were from Europe. This was mainly due to the traveling distance. Some people wondered why less fancied countries like Romania took part at all, given the distance involved. It is said that Romanian players were having problems getting leave from their jobs and almost could not take part. But then, the king of Romania, a passionate football fan, intervened and requested the employers of the players to grant them leave so that they could travel to Uruguay. Who was this king?

4. In the preliminary rounds, Guillermo Stabile of Argentina scored a hat-trick on his international debut in a 6-3 victory over Mexico. Eventually he was to score eight goals in the tournament, which was by far the best by a single player. Until 2006, he was recognized as the first player to score a hat-trick in a FIFA World Cup. But in 2006, FIFA finally recognized another player as the first to score a hat-trick. Playing for the USA, he had scored all three goals in a 3-0 victory over Paraguay. However, his second goal was attributed to another player until 2006 when FIFA awarded it to him. Who was this player?

5. The host nation, Uruguay, won the 1930 World Cup, defeating the traditional rivals Argentina in the final by 4-2, after being down 1-2 at half time. The last survivor of the final was an Argentine striker who was 20 at the time. He died in 2010, at the age of 100. Who was he?

Answers to Quiz 15: British Conquest of Kandy

1. Gallahawatta
2. Treaty of Amiens
3. John D’oyly
4. 11 Chieftains
5. Vellore

Thursday, September 4, 2014

D.J. Wimalasurendra, Father of Sri Lanka's Hydro Power

We frequently hear about scientists of Western countries. But, Sri Lanka can also be proud of the scientists it has produced. The relics of ancient monuments attest to the fact that there was a well developed science centuries ago in Sri Lanka. In recent years, after Sri Lankans had been introduced to Western science and its concepts, some Sri Lankan scientists took them even further. The talents of such scientists were critical for the development of the country.

Devapura Jayasena Wimalasurendra was such a great man. He is celebrated today as “father of hydro power development in Sri Lanka.” All Sri Lankans who benefit from electricity should be extremely thankful for the pioneering work of Wimalasurendra.

Commonly known as D.J. Wimalasurendra, he was born on September 17, 1874, in Galle. His father was a master craftsman, Mudaliyar Don Juan Wimalasurendra. Educated in Ananda College, Colombo, he later graduated in Civil Engineering from the Ceylon Technical College. His interest in hydropower goes back to 1901, when he was sent to look for mineral deposits in the Kelani River valley. At Laxapana Waterfall, watching the water cascading down 115m, he realized the immense potential it processed. Hydropower, abundant in the country, could be used for generation of electricity.

Sadly he received little encouragement from the colonial government. But, Wimalasurendra was not a person who was discouraged easily. He answered by starting the first ever small hydro power station in Sri Lanka at Blackpool, Nuwaraeliya. This power station supplied electricity to the Nuwaraeliya Town which was much smaller than today. It was in 1913 (100 years ago) that this power plant was constructed.

Wimalasurendra was innovative and thinking ahead of his times. In 1918, with the success at Blackpool to back him up, Wimalasurendra read a paper titled "Economics of Power Utilization in Ceylon" to the Engineering Association. Now this institution is known as the Institution of Engineers, Sri Lanka (IESL). He argued the case for the development of hydro potential of the country. He estimated that 114.5 MW could be developed from Kehelgamuwa Oya. The engineers, the majority of them Englishmen, were skeptical of the project. They also questioned what the country would do with 114.5 MW of power. This shows that the engineers were not thinking of the industrial development of Ceylon. They just wanted Ceylon to be a producer of tea, rubber and coconut. Wimalasurendra pointed out the need for cheap power for setting up heavy industries for the development of the country. He also suggested the electrification of a section of the railway.

In 1923, the government started a hydropower project, but sidelined Wimalasurendra. Bitter at heart, he left for England. Returning at the request of the Colonial Secretary, he was appointed Chief Engineer at Public Works Department. But his projects were still not given the full support. He resigned in 1929, contested and won the State Council election from Ratnapura in 1931, and continued to promote his project through the Council. Yet, it was only after the Second World War that his ideas were taken seriously. In 1950, at the ripe age of 75, he saw his dream fulfilled. Laxapana power station was inaugurated that year. A happy man at last, he died on August 10, 1953.

He was a visionary and an innovative thinker. But as many innovative thinkers are, he was discouraged by many other, less innovative people. But, he was confident and persevered with his ideas. Ultimately, he received the due recognition. Sri Lanka remembers Wimalasurendra, but not those who discouraged him.

“Although it was not my fortune to execute the scheme I have originated, I am happy that I lived to see it brought to fruition by my countrymen, and that I should have, in the evening of my life, able to see in reality the dawn which I saw in the mind's eye over half a century ago. Now, if I leave this world, I leave fulfilled” –D.J. Wimalasurendra, at the inauguration of Laxapana power station in 1950.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

History Repeats itself 75 Years After

As the world marks the 75th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War, there is a sense if history repeating itself. While many in Europe believe that history is being repeated in Eastern Ukraine, there is somewhere else that this is happening and is still overlooked for some extent. These events are unfolding in Iraq and Syria.

The rise of the rebel group now calling itself Islamic State (IS) has been phenomenal seen from outside, partly because of the relevant media blackout in Western media until June. It was then that the IS, then variously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) burst into world politics. The well armed militants swept across a large swath of the territory in Iraq in a matter of days. All of a sudden, the United States, which usually has solutions (good or bad) to most of the problems in the world, are totally lost without a strategy to counter the issue.

Territories under the control of "Islamic State" by August 24, 2014 in red. (Wikimedia Commons)
For the time being, the West is trying to aid its allies in the area to fight the ISIS. Ironically, ISIS has benefited from the weapons sent to the Syrian opposition from the West. Today, both sides are fighting with weapons originating in the same countries, mainly in the West. What the ISIS today faces is an alliance of Iraqi forces, Turkish Peshmerga and other Iraqi militants. Meanwhile in Syria, it faces the Assad regime. The western democracies find it hard to work with the Assad regime against which they have been helping the opposition for more than three years.

Here lies a parallel to some extent with the history of the Second World War. By mid 1939, it was increasingly becoming evident that the German dictator Adolf Hitler would not back down unless he got Danzig, if not the whole of Poland. France, the traditional ally of Poland, and Britain wanted to help the threatened country, which could not have possibly resisted a German Blitzkrieg. However, the allies were constrained from one major fault, geography. Furthermore, militarily, the French were so negative minded. If not, they could have ended the Hitler regime in Rhineland three years before the Danzig issue.

The only viable alternative was to solicit the support of the Soviet Union. But Poland was vehemently opposed to it as well, as the staunchly anti-Soviet Polish people did not want to speculate on the possibility of seeing the Red Army in Poland.

If a defense alliance with the Soviet Union did happen, Germany would have been forced to reassess their plans of invading Poland. Soviet troops would have entered Poland only in the case where Germany decided to carry on the invasion regardless of the alliance. By then, it would not have mattered much as Poland would be already in a battle for survival.

One can hardly speculate what would have happened. But the Germans would have most probably backed off, not wanting to face a combined alliance of the Soviet, Polish, British and French forces. It was a possibility. Disregarding that possibility landed the Polish people in half a century of oppression, first by Nazis and then by the Red Army and its puppets. At the time, Poland was not ready to make an agreement with the “devil” to defeat the other, more obvious threat, and ended up in being subjected to both evils.

The apparent rise of the ISIS has created a situation similar in some aspects to what Europe faced before the outbreak of the Second World War. The threat of the ISIS is quite prominent and the current band of allies of the western democracies cannot possibly withstand it alone. They will fight back, and inflict defeats, but they do not have the strength or perhaps even the will to crush the ISIS completely.

There are three parties which can play a major role in this battle against ISIS. Two of them will not be able to play an active part due to obvious reasons. They are Israel and Iran. If either of them gets engaged, it will possibly destroy the anti-ISIS alliance. The third party, which already has been in the middle of the battle, is Syria. However, the west is uncomfortable of aiding Syria in its battle with ISIS, simply because they want to see the back of Assad.

The West is in a dilemma in Syria. Today, they have to choose the lesser of the two “evils”, Assad and ISIS. Assad is a secular leader and despite his anti-western stance, can perhaps be a person one can deal with. On the other hand, ISIS is a volatile outfit which increasingly looks menacing. Who will the west pick is the question. If it does not choose to ask for Assad’s help, it might be something similar to Poland not wanting the assistance of the Soviet Union. It is high time for the Western powers to decide clearly what the “lesser devil” is. Otherwise things will get even more complicated.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Quiz with Chamara Sumanapala. Part 15: The British Conquest of Kandy

After taking control of Dutch Ceylon, the British tried to conquer Kandy, Sri Lanka’s last independent kingdom. Their army was defeated in 1803. Then the British turned to political intrigue, creating and nurturing differences between local chieftains. This ultimately led to infighting and a drastic fall of the popularity of the king. When the British forces once again invaded Kandy in February 1815, it was not a fight, but a pathetic surrender of a proud nation, which just willingly subjugated itself to a foreign power.
The memorial at the place where the last king of Kandy was captured

1. The British forces entered the city of Senkadagalapura (Kandy) unmolested on February 14, 1815. Four days later, the last king of the Kandyan Kingdom, Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe, was captured by a Sinhalese group from Sabaragamuwa led by Eknaligoda Nilame. He killed Udupitiye Arachchi, who had protected the king by hiding him in his house and mistreated the king and the queens. Today, there is a memorial at the place the king was captured. What is this village?

2. The British had taken over Dutch Ceylon in a temporary basis, after The Netherlands had been captured by the French. It was feared that France would capture former Dutch colonies. So, the Dutch Prince William V signed an agreement with the British and transferred the control of the colonies to the British temporarily. However, under an international treaty signed in 1802, Dutch Ceylon was permanently transferred to Britain. It was after that the British tried to capture Kandy in 1803. What was the treaty which assured British rule in the former Dutch Ceylon?

3. After the initial setback in 1803, the British used political intrigue to undermine the authority of the King of Kandy. This project was basically in the hands of an Englishman who had arrived in Ceylon in 1801. He held numerous secret discussions with the Kandyan Chieftains, soliciting the support of some of them against the king. One could name him as the ‘master spy’ responsible for the British conquest of Kandy. He was involved in the drafting of the Kandyan Convention and was the first British Resident, or the official agent of the British government in Kandy. Born in 1774, he died in Kandy in May 1824 due to high fever. Who is he?

4. The Kandyan Convention, which was the agreement by which the Kandyan Chieftains agreed to surrender the kingdom to the British, was published on March 02, 1815. Several Chiefs signed it on March 10, and Ahalepola Maha Adikaram was the last Sinhalese Chief who signed on March 18. In total, how many Kandyan Chieftains signed the Convention?

5. After the king was captured, the British took him to Colombo and held him at a temporary room until he was transferred to India. He was held in a large house inside a fort in today’s Tamil Nadu. It was in this house that Tipu Sultan’s family had been living after he was killed in the last battle with the British in 1799. Therefore, the house had been named as the Haider Mahal or Tipu Mahal. It was changed to Kandy Mahal after Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe and his family came to live there. It was here that the king died in 1832. What is the name of this fort?

Answers to Quiz 14: International Mother Languages Day

1. 1952
2. Arabic
3. South Africa
4. Papua New Guinea
5. Vanuatu