PM Rajapaksa in Tirupathi Seeking Divine Blessings to ‘Salvage’ Country from Multiple Crises
|By Gagani Weerakoon|
As the country is hit by multiple crises, including a predicted famine in 2022, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, on Friday (24), offered prayers at the ancient hill shrine of Lord Venkateswara at Tirumala, famously known as Tirupathi Temple.
Prime Minister Rajapaksa, accompanied by his wife Shiranthi Rajapaksa, flew on Thursday afternoon on a 2-day-long spiritual journey to the hills.
After an overnight stay at a heavily guarded guest house on the hills, the Lankan Prime Minister, clad in traditional attire visited the shrine at the crack of dawn and paid his obeisance to the presiding deity, Lord Venkateswara. Rajapaksa also made an offering in the ‘hundi’ (offering box) at the shrine.
Earlier, upon arrival at the ‘Mahadwaram’ of the shrine, Rajapaksa was accorded a grand traditional reception by Vedic priests along with top functionaries of the shrine, Indian media reported.
After worship, the high priests of the shrine, amid chanting of Vedic hymns, bestowed blessings upon the Rajapaksa couple at the sprawling Sri Ranganayaka Mandapam at the hill shrine, a temple official was quoted as saying.
The PM was also presented a portrait of Lord Venkateswara and laddu prasadam by the temple management, the official said.
In the past, Rajapaksa has worshipped at the ancient hill shrine in his capacity as the country’s President and now as the Prime Minister of the island nation, the official said.
This is Rajapaksa’s second visit to the temple as Prime Minister, the official said.
Controversial Agri Ministry
Former Eastern Province Chief Secretary, D.M.L.D. Bandaranayake has succeeded Prof. Udith K. Jayasinghe as Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, becoming the fourth Ministry Secretary to be appointed since May 2020.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Wdnesday (22) removed Prof. Jayasinghe who was appointed to the post in June this year, days after he informed the public of a possible famine in the coming year.
The President on an earlier occasion warned that officials who do not support the Green Agriculture Policy of the Government would be replaced.
Major General (retd) Sumedha Perera was appointed as Agriculture Ministry Secretary in May 2020 but was replaced in March 2021 by M.B. Rohana Pushpakumara.
The Ministry of Agriculture has been at the centre of controversy and debates over the organic fertiliser fiasco and several officials including Prof. Buddhi Marambe have been removed and replaced as a result.
Meanwhile, former Secretary to the Agriculture Ministry, Prof. Uditha K. Jayasinghe, who was axed from the post, hinted the reason behind his removal from the post could be his educating people about a possible food crisis in the country next year.
Prof. Jayasinghe warned again that if the current situation in the agriculture sector continues, a food shortage is inevitable.
He was removed from the post, days after warning about a possible food shortage in the coming year.
Speaking to the Media on Thursday (23), Prof. Jayasinghe said he has not been given a reason for his removal yet.
“Therefore, I do not know the exact reason as to why I was removed from the post. Also, I have not been informed about it officially as well,” he added.
“Everyone who has knowledge on the subject can understand that if the current situation in the country continues, a food shortage in the coming year is inevitable. We have to show the actual situation, so preparations could be made to avoid a food shortage. That was what I did in a simple manner. Policies of the Government cannot be violated by doing so,” he pointed out.
Speaking further, Prof. Jayasinghe said, “I have done research about the subject for several decades. If we cannot make a prediction after studying current data, what is the point of us having education about the subject for 30 years? The truth can hurt sometimes for those who try to hide the facts. But this is the reality. It is useless if we cannot inform the real situation to the public. The President also has instructed me that it is my responsibility to educate people. That was what I did.”
Moreover, Prof. Jayasinghe said he is sad about losing the post.
“It does not mean that I am wailing over losing the post. It is okay to lose the post if people are educated. I am sad because I sacrificed my expertise, time and efforts to do something good during the past few months. I did not even get a salary for the post. So I am sad about that,” he said.
However, Prof. Jayasinghe was not the only one to predict about a possible famine in the coming year.
President of the National Govijana Collective (NGC) Anurada Tennakoon warned that the paddy harvest in the upcoming season will decline by four million metric tons as one-third of the farmers nationwide had given up farming.
He emphasised that it was the responsibility of the subject Minister to provide an uninterrupted supply of organic or chemical fertiliser during the Yala Season.
He stated that the subject Minister also has the responsibility to ensure food security, protect farmers and safeguard the harvest without paving the way for food scarcity in the country.
Tennakoon alleged that in the aftermath of the proscription of the import of chemical fertiliser, the Minister of Agriculture, his Ministry, the Fertiliser Secretariat along with the Govijana Development Department had failed to commence the supply of sufficient organic fertiliser stocks to farmers leading to the current crisis situation in the country.
He further charged that the subject Minister has to be held directly accountable for his inaction and the current sorry state of the agricultural sector in the country.
Environment Minister Mahinda Amaraweera, who at one point held the ministry portfolio, said the Government should immediately establish a programme to improve cultivation to avoid a possible famine next year, as some experts continue to warn.
“Some of our experts and scientists have already predicted a famine in the country next year. Also, a crisis situation, particularly with regard to fertiliser, has caused crop damage and the inability to cultivate in a timely manner due to floods,” he said.
Speaking further, Amaraweera warned, “farmers’ complaints make it apparent that the fertiliser shortage has halted their agricultural activities. As a result of non-cultivation and reduced yields, there is a potential of a food shortage next year.”
The Minister, who was speaking at a temple in Walasmulla, said the Government should quickly introduce a programme to enhance cultivation to deal with the predicted crisis.
He claimed that during late Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s administration, she initiated an islandwide agricultural warfare programme dubbed ‘Production War’ to address the famine and set the stage for it.
“In order to confront the famine that is expected to strike next year, we must all confront it as a country, regardless of differences. To this purpose, the Government should initiate an agricultural cultivation battle right away. Otherwise, we will be unable to deal with the coming famine. I will communicate my ideas and proposals to the President in this regard at the Cabinet meeting,” he stated.
To find solutions for the crises faced by the country, a collective effort is needed instead of actions taken by individuals, Jathika Jana Balawegaya (JJB) Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake said on Monday (20).
He said the JJB is ready to rebuild the country. Addressing the JJB representatives’ summit titled Binda watuna mawbima goda nagana wisanduma (the solution to rebuild the troubled motherland) in Colombo, Dissanayake said the country’s economy is in dire straits.
“Both the public and the country are facing a disaster at the moment. The economy is in a pathetic state. There is a severe shortage in the market. Over 1,500 containers containing essential goods are stuck at the harbour owing to the dollar shortage. We are not sure if the country is able to repay the debts next year. This is the result of following traditional political methods for decades. Can this traditional political culture take the country forward?,” he queried.
Speaking further, Dissanayake said proper economic policies are needed to rebuild the country.
“Many are trying to find solutions for the present crisis individually. But individual efforts would not work anymore. We need a collective effort. We have to fight together,” he said.
The National People’s Power (NPP) is the only aspiration to put an end to corrupt politics and move away from traditional politics that has led the country to a crisis and the NPP is ready to lead the country towards a stronger economic and political journey, the NPP Leader said.
He said the economic and political policies adopted over the past decades have been completely ruined in the most disastrous manner and the burden has been passed onto the public by way of increased cost of living, shortage of food and the inability to repay debts, while questioning the purpose of a political agenda that does not uplift living standards and strengthens the economy.
Addressing the NPP representative summit in Colombo he said the unsuccessful traditional politics followed so far should be changed as it is evident that the country could not be uplifted by such approaches and rebuilding a country could not be done by an individual but should rather be a collective effort.
He further said the country and the public have not faced a natural catastrophe but is facing repercussions of a long-term unsuccessful political and economic journey and that it is crucial to establish refined policies.
The main reason for the current crisis that the country is facing is mainly due to corrupt politics and this is made evident by those in power trying to make money even out of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said while questioning how faith can be placed in such political leaders.
The reports of the former Auditor General have assessed sufficient details on corrupt politics, Dissanayake said adding that corrupt politics does not only expose bribes but affects the country in the long term.
“Several have lost faith in politics but the only manner in which the current crisis the country is facing is also through politics,” he said, while noting that a people’s movement is required for the NPP in order to shift from traditional politics towards a more long-term beneficial approach.
“Politicians should be able to engage with the public and understand issues at ground level without continuously being entitled to privileges and every official should ensure they fulfil their individual responsibility. Politicians do not abide by the law and thereby the privileges so given should be cut down.”
He added that in order to rebuild the country, two main factors have to be taken into consideration; eliminating corrupt politics and a collective effort, while stating that although the NPP has several plans, ideas and proposals, the public’s opinions will be taken into consideration.
Economic policies should be construed based on increasing local production and increasing the supply in the local market, which is why there is a downfall in local production when containers of essentials are held at ports; there is a shortage of essential commodities in the local market, he opined.
The other way is by increased involvement of the public towards economic upliftment and by equal distribution of wealth. Every country develops their economy based on several different mechanisms and we have to put our resources into good use, Dissanayake said.
“We have several natural resources and these have to be put to effective use together with increased involvement of human resources he said adding that one main issue with the human resource in the country is education. Although 330,000 enrol for grade 1 in schools, 30,000 drop out before grade 10, which works to nine per cent of those who enrol for school.”
He further said that over 70 per cent of drug addicts and prisoners have not even completed their ordinary level examinations and that there is a relationship between poverty and education.
He added that the NPP will make sure main requisites of public are met including shelter, an income, education for children, a health system and mental wellbeing.
SLFP General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekara said the party is willing to form an alliance with the JVP, as both parties are ‘clean’ and ‘free from corruption’.
Speaking to the media, he noted the SLFP has the potential to build the future by collaborating with the JVP, recalling the SLFP’s history of forming governments in collaboration with the JVP.
He noted the SLFP has now become a ‘clean party’, free from corruption and fraud. Laying the initial ground work, the Central Committee had discussed the possible formation of a broad alliance.
Jayasekara said, while he had not yet discussed the matter with the JVP, he believed such an endeavour is a strong possibility.
“During the former President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s presidency in 2001 and Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidency in 2005, the SLFP had formed an alliance with them. Hence, the SLFP’s decision to join the JVP is nothing new. We have everything in our camp to form an alliance that will bring about unity and consensus,” he said.
Meanwhile, responding to SLFP Jayasekara’s offer to form a coalition with the JVP, the party’s General Secretary, Tilvin Silva asserted the JVP does not take such statements seriously.
Silva added that Jayasekara’s statement further underscores the fact that the SLPP-led government has failed on all fronts.
“It is a joke that the SLFP labels itself as a clean party. They cannot label themselves as clean while being a part of the Government,” he said.
Silva said the SLFP, while enjoying perks and privileges within the Government, and having voted for the recent Budget and the ratification of the controversial 20th Amendment to the Constitution, insisting that they were ready to tie up with the JVP was nothing but playing to the gallery. He insisted that the JVP has no intention of politically linking up with the SLPP or the SLFP.
The JVP and the Jathika Jana Balawegaya (JJB) have already launched a broad political alliance with the input of the masses to get the country back on track ahead of the next election, he said.