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by Vijaya Chandrasoma
I was inspired to write this essay while reading an excellent book of the same title, written by political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt in 2018, which I have adapted for my purposes.
When we look at history of the 20th century and examine the reasons behind the death of democracies, we see two major strategies.
During the cold war, democracies died by military coups d’etats, achieved by men with guns. Democracies in Argentina, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Thailand, Turkey and Uganda all died this way.
Since the end of the Cold War, however, most democratic breakdowns have been caused not by generals and soldiers but by political leaders elected by the people. Like Chavez in Venezuela, elected leaders with authoritarian ambitions, have used, often subverted, democratic institutions, to gain power. These countries include Georgia, Hungary, Nicaragua, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Ukraine.
“Democratic backsliding today begins at the ballot box”.
Political scientist Juan Linz, born in Weimar Germany and raised during Spain’s civil war, was well aware of the dangers of losing a democracy. In his book, The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes, published in 1978, Linz summarizes a set of four warnings we should look for in the recognition of authoritarianism.
First, the aspiring authoritarian rejects, in word or action, the democratic rules of the game (flaunting rejection of, or violating, the constitution; undermining elections and refusing to accept credible election results); second, denies the legitimacy of opponents (baselessly accusing opponents of criminal acts and working with an adversarial foreign government to foster these charges); third, tolerates or incites violence (with access to armed gangs and paramilitary forces, tacitly endorsing acts of violence); finally, attempts to curtail the civil rights of opponents (threatening to take punitive action against dissidents, critics and the media).
In his satire, The Plot Against America, novelist Philip Roth describes an alternative history of America turned upside down in the 1930s. After his solo flight across the Atlantic, Charles Lindbergh had become a national hero. He presented the human face of a new frontier, the beginnings of air travel, which has become the standard means of international movement of people and freight today. Just as, centuries ago, man conquered the oceans, and was able to transport men and cargo across countries, changing our lives. Just as the movement towards space travel, inspired by Kennedy when he encouraged man, paraphrasing Star Trek, “to go where no man has gone before”, is fast becoming a reality. And of course, the Internet, which is continuing to progress at warp speeds, opening up means of communications beyond the ken of my generation, but as easy to operate and taken for granted by the new, who use it with the facility of the slate once used as a learning tool.
Lindbergh was, however, a known Nazi sympathizer and anti-Semite, who was awarded the German Medal of Honour by Hitler’s close associate, Hermann Goering, in 1938. He was also an isolationist, who protested American involvement in World War II.
Roth describes an imaginary America where Lindbergh wins the presidency in 1936, beating the incumbent President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Just as Juan Linz’s warnings described above have all the hallmarks of Trump’s 2016 campaign, Roth’s fictional account has compelling similarities with Trump’s electoral win of 2016.
Trump also is a known sympathizer of America’s premier adversary, Putin of Russia. In a land of immigrants, he identifies his enemies as the new immigrants, legal and illegal, from Mexico and Central America. He showed his anti-Semitic tendencies by condoning the behaviour of White Supremacists who marched the streets of Charlottesville in 2017, shouting, “The Jews will not replace us”. Very fine people, according to Trump. And his racism against African Americans is as legendary as it is genetic. His father was arrested in Queens, New York, as a Ku Klux Klan activist in 1926, and he himself was indicted in 1972 for flouting the Fair Housing Act by refusing to rent to African Americans.
It would be interesting to second-guess what would have happened if, as Roth muses satirically, Hitler and the Nazis won World War II, which would have been a given with America’s non-participation, considering Lindbergh’s continuing dalliance with Hitler. A wave of anti-Semitism and violence would have been unleashed in America.
The world would have been ruled by the Master Race as dreamed by Hitler (and, later, Trump) – Aryan, white, blonde and blue eyed. The dissidents of those countries with people of impure blood, Trump’s shithole countries, would have been marginalized with an extensive use of ovens and gas chambers; others reduced to slavery whose only duty would be to serve the white Masters.
This is not some preposterous, paranoid nightmare. It is a part of history which we have already endured, more or less, with centuries of colonialism and slavery in many parts of the world.
So why has this seemingly inexorable process towards authoritarianism not continued in America? In 2016, Trump, a known sexual predator and crook with no experience of public service, defeated for the presidency the most qualified person with a decades-long, successful experience of public service. Why didn’t this happen again in 2020?
The answer is criminal incompetence. He ushered in an era of corruption, nepotism, racism, anti-Semitism and a complete indifference to the millions of impoverished, often homeless, millions in the richest country in the world. The “shining city on the Hill” was accessible only to the wealthy and the corporations. His criminal incompetence in mishandling the pandemic, which was responsible for hundreds of thousands preventable deaths, was hopefully the final nail in the coffin of his dictatorial dream.
But Trump’s dream may not be quite dead as yet, perhaps only delayed for a few years, thanks to the enablers of the Republican Party, whose sycophantic loyalty remains unshaken. Even with dozens of court cases hanging over him, for fraud, money laundering, tax evasion, sexual abuse and treason, Trump is still the undisputed leader of the Republican Party. Seventy percent of all Republicans believe the Big Lie that the election was stolen from Trump. Republican members of Congress, bar a couple, also pretend to believe in the Big Lie, against all evidence to the contrary. They are making utterly sycophantic idiots of themselves, because they feel they cannot win re-election in 2022 and 2024 without the support of the Trump cult. Self and Party before Country, that’s the current Republican slogan.
With 30% of the country behind him, with Republican governors of Red States already enacting Draconian laws of voter suppression, with the violent help of his armed white supremacist thugs, Trump’s dreams of autocracy may still come true, in 2024. Of course, he will be 78 years of age, with advancing dementia combined with ignorance and narcissism. These same defects did not stop him in 2016.
None of these matter, as long as the vital credential, the one dream that he shares with his cult, the dream of the perpetuation of White Supremacy and privilege, lives. The dream of a Trump Dynasty, with members of his family at the head of important governmental organizations, with the rich and wealthy becoming richer and wealthier. And most important, the shredding of the 22nd Amendment, even dispensing with or rigging elections, which will keep him in power for life, to be succeeded by the issue of his choice. The current favourite being Ivanka.
“The tragic paradox of the electoral route to authoritarianism is that democracy’s assassins use the very institutions of democracy – gradually, subtly, even legally – to kill it”.
Trump’s favourite (and only) book is Hitler’s Mein Kampf, which he occasionally gets Melania to read to him. Those tactics succeeded for a time in the 1930s. More sophisticated strategies have evolved in the quest for authoritarian power.
Trump would have been well-advised to take a page from the playbook of Sri Lankan leaders, who have already achieved all the dreams that authoritarians, including Trump, hold dear, legally and painlessly.
Since we received independence in 1948, Sri Lanka was a vibrant democracy, perhaps till 1977. Elections were held on schedule (except for one two-year extention of parliament in 1975), and the electoral process was never questioned. Successive governments were overturned by landslides, and the transfer of power was usually peaceful, though sometimes disturbed by random pockets of post-election violence.
The seeds of authoritarianism in Sri Lanka, the removal of the guardrails protecting democracy, were planted by the UNP constitution of 1977. The President of Sri Lanka, hitherto a ceremonial figurehead, became the elected Head of State with full executive powers, far in excess of those enjoyed by Heads of State since independence. President Jayewardene availed himself of these dictatorial powers by immediately stripping Mrs. Bandaranaike, the previous Prime Minister, of her civic rights and expelling her from parliament from October 1980.
This dictatorial action was taken to prevent Mrs. Bandaranaike from holding public office again, voting and campaigning in elections, although she remained the leader of the SLFP and one of the most visible and popular politicians in Sri Lanka.
Page 1, section 1 of the Dictator’ Handbook – eliminate, preferably permanently, political rivals, a lesson well learned and implemented by subsequent leaders with authoritarian ambitions, irrespective of party affiliation.
Apart from ruling his party and the country with an iron fist, Jayewardene’s economic policies introduced an unprecedented level of public and private corruption, facilitated by the increase of the money supply because of huge infrastructure projects and the liberalization of imports. Corruption has only increased exponentially with each successive government.
President Premadasa continued with these policies in the backdrop of a fierce civil war and a southern insurrection. The ruling government also spawned extra-judicial, party sponsored militia (a polite term for armed goons) who “discouraged” or assassinated dissidents and muzzled the media, both print and TV.
The ending of the 30-year civil war in 2009, and the return to peace and even illusory racial harmony, has given the Rajapaksa family an almost divine image, especially in the rural areas. A country, hitherto polarized by extremists, corrupt politicians and gunrunners, for whom the ethnic war was a source of profit, was at last freed from fear, hatred and constant violence.
General Sarath Fonseka attempted to ride on his popularity as the head of the Sinhala forces who ushered in peace, success claimed by the then President and Minister of Defence MR along with Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Fonseka also had the temerity of run against Mahinda Rajapaksa for the presidency in 2010.
Fonseka’s subsequent incarceration after his defeat, with a sentence of three years in prison on charges of “corruption” was straight out of the authoritarian playbook. He was released after serving two years of his sentence through international pressure.
The Rajapaksa administration’s popularity was waning in 2014, amid widespread rumours of massive corruption, when one of the members of his cabinet, Maithripala Sirisena, defected to the impotent, rudderless UNP-backed coalition of other parties. Sirisena won the presidency and led an uneasy administration for three years. Amidst constant in-fighting, the shaky Yahapalana coalition came to its inevitable end, when Gotabaya Rajapaksa defeated UNP candidate, Sajith Premadasa handily in the 2019 presidential election.
The Rajapaksas have now resumed their accustomed position as the Ruling Family of Sri Lanka from 2019. The president retained the Defence ministry, elder brother and past president, Mahinda, Prime Minister and Finance, eldest brother Chamal at Irrigation, and Mahinda’s son, Namal, 35 years old, as Sports Minister. Most recently Basil Rajapaksa took over Finance.
The drift towards authoritarianism now seems to be a fait accompli in Sri Lanka, achieved entirely through the electoral process. Complete power resides in the hands of one family. The next generation is already being groomed for leadership. And the Commander-in-Chief is in total command of the military, as he should be.
Trump, are you listening? All it took for you to achieve your dream of claiming a dictatorial dynasty was to have shown a semblance of competence in maintaining the booming economy you inherited, and heeding scientific advice in handling the pandemic. White Supremacy alone could not save you from your own criminal incompetence.
Ironically and most tragically, it took a pandemic which has already taken over 700,000 American lives to save the oldest democracy in the world. For the moment.
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By Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil
President – Chandi J. Associates Inc. Consulting, Canada
Founder & Administrator – Global Hospitality Forum
Learning from the Past to Create a Bright Future
Last week, I was pleased to be invited by a newly established International Hotel School (IHS) Guild to talk on the above topic. IHS Guild organized their first webinar of a series on the day I celebrated my 50 years in the field of hospitality – on October 10, 2021. As their keynote speaker, I spoke about the vision, the mission and the passion needed. It was in relation to the how the IHS – the second oldest hotel school in Sri Lanka, was created within Mount Lavinia Hotel 30 years ago. As the hotel industry in Sri Lanka is planning to re-bounce and rebuild after the global pandemic, it is vital for industry leaders to learn from the past in becoming innovative leaders for the future.
Managing an Inn at age twenty
In 1974, my first management position fell on my lap when I was still a 24-year old third-year student at the Ceylon Hotel School (CHS). The company making the offer was very impressed with my experience in eight part-time positions within a short two and half years at CHS. Most of my peers interested in this position had only two or three part-time positions on their resumes. My focus on being ‘street smart’ by action learning at any job I could find rather than being ‘book smart’, finally paid dividends.
This company, with five boutique hotels (in Colombo, Kandy and Nuwara Eliya) – Yahala Group, offered me the post of the Resident Secretary of the Tropical Gardens Club & Inn in the most expensive location in Sri Lanka (Colombo Seven). I accepted the offer immediately. Every afternoon, soon after I finished my classes at CHS, I wore a tie and rushed to the this small 10-bedroom inn with a busy restaurant, bar and a club. Around 4:00 pm every weekday, I took over the keys and the entire operation from Mrs. S. Wijesinghe, the manageress.
I was paid only Rs. 200 a month. However, to the amazement of my batchmates I was provided with à la carte restaurant dining facilities and an air-conditioned room for overnight stay, on complimentary basis. Air-conditioning was a luxury in mid-1970s in Sri Lanka. Around midnight, I managed to do a little bit of studying for the forthcoming final examinations at CHS in my luxurious hotel bedroom, rather than in a crowded dormitory at the CHS hostel.
The manageress was an early bird. Every morning, I handed over the inn back to her and rushed to CHS. During the weekends I worked longer hours. I did not get many opportunities to practice my newly improved culinary skills but enjoyed being in charge of the inn during its busiest time of the day. I was the number two of the inn combined with duties of the duty manager and night manager. The employees respected me after I commenced mini sessions of service training. In my ninth part-time job I learnt how to lead a small team and keep them motivated.
Winning Big at Sports
In spite of my hectic schedule, I found time to continue practising Judo and Rugby Football. I was chosen to the five-member team of Colombo YMCA Judo club. After a hectic five-bout team event, we won the 1974 national Judo Championship in Sri Lanka.
For the third time, as the Tournament Secretary of the Nationalised Services Rugby Football Club I led the organizing of a 16-team seven-a-side tournament. CHS competed once again and won the championship for the first time. We played against strong teams with several top Sri Lanka national team players, such as Dan Ratnam (Captain of the Havelock Sports Club, fondly known as Havies Rugger team). Our hard work at early morning practices at the Galle Face Green and our youthful fitness were the key winning factors in our favour.
I was angered when the team captain and my friend, Neil Maurice nearly dropped me from the team for not attending some of the practice sessions. However, he was particularly pleased with my performance during our final match. After a 60-meter sprint, I scored an early try within minutes of the opening whistle. After we won the trophy, Neil gave me a big hug and said, “Machang, no hard feelings. We won mainly because of that first minute try by you.”
Getting Promoted to Havelock Tourinn
During my third month at Tropical Gardens Club & Inn, the company appointed a Group General Manager in charge of all five boutique hotels. Mr C. Nagendra was a Chartered Accountant returning to Sri Lanka after spending a long time in the UK. He immediately interviewed me and offered me a transfer and promotion. He transferred me to the company’s flagship hotel – Havelock Tourinn on Dickman’s Road, Colombo-4 as one of his two deputies. Mr. Nagendra made my job a full-time job and doubled my salary, to Rs. 400 a month. At that time, that was a very good salary for a 20-year old.
One of my batchmates, Hiran Seneviratne and I were both appointed Assistant Managers. Hiran was a smooth operator and was a friendly roommate at the CHS hostel. Hiran and I shared one office with Mr. Nagendra, who was familiarizing himself with hotel operations. He was a good administrator, but did not have experience in hotel operations. He kept on asking us operational questions and we learnt hotel accounting from him.
I looked after the kitchen, bar and the Flame Room Restaurant then famous for flambé dishes. I had a team of young, smart and English-fluent waiters who came from Colombo schools. I did some training sessions for them. In later years, most of them became good restaurant managers and food and beverage managers of top hotels in Sri Lanka and the Middle East. Hiran looked after the rest of the operations. In my tenth job at times, I also acted for the General Manager.
I did well at the final examinations. CHS arranged a grand graduation ceremony at Hotel Samudra with Dr. N. M. Perera, the Minister of Finance, as the chief guest. Although it was a happy moment, I was saddened to leave the hostel and many friends at CHS. We were also getting ready to bid farewell to three of my batchmates who were awarded Carl Duisberg Society scholarships to undergo two years of postgraduate industrial training in West Germany. In addition, my friend, Neil Maurice decided to migrate to Australia soon after the graduation.
Our two junior batches at CHS organized a grand graduation ball event at the Colombo Holiday Inn. They followed the traditions we set during our time at CHS. Our memorable three years at CHS ended on a high note.
Career Planning – The Next Move?
Early hours of that morning, after the graduation ball, I went to my bedroom at Havelock Tourinn instead of my home which was a just a five-minute walk from the hotel. I did not fall asleep as I had a long thought about my next career move. I thought about the ten part-time jobs I held during my student years at CHS, and identified key lessons I learnt by doing or observing in each of those jobs:
1. Hotel Samdura – Following rules to avoid getting fired
2. Pegasus Reef Hotel – Win-win formula for successful buffet products
3. Mount Lavina Hyatt Hotel – Restaurant service and fair dealing with trade unions
4. Barberyn Reef Hotel – Analysing personalities of superiors and customers
5. Windmill Restaurant – Fast food operations
6. Hotel Ceylon InterContinental – Five-star banquet service
7. Lever Brothers – Staff canteen mass food production
8. Bentota Beach Hotel – Bar controls and kitchen operations
9. Tropical Gardens Club & Inn – Club management and staff training
10. Havelock Tourinn – Kitchen, food and beverage and general management.
At age 20, I was working as the Assistant Manager of a reputed hotel in Colombo with free board and lodging, and walking distance to my family home. It was also not far from my club (YMCA Judo Club) and many key venues for social activities in Colombo. This was somewhat a dream job for most young graduates of CHS. I was very comfortable at my current job, but settling in a comfort zone was short-sighted. There were many other key aspects of hotel operations I needed to get practical experience of. Therefore, I concluded that I needed to move.
In my opinion, kitchen operations is a weak aspect of most hotel managers/general managers. As a result, some executive chefs behaved with attitudes which undermined the hotels manager’s authority. At Havelock Tourinn I had three experienced chefs (including Mrs. Marie Nugapitiya who later became a Culinary Lecturer at CHS) reporting to me. I was not experienced enough in kitchen operations to supervise such qualified and experienced chefs who were also much senior to me in age.
I decided that before I became a hotel general manager, I must master kitchen management initially as a junior chef and then after a couple of years, as an executive chef. Although I loved Bentota Beach hotel, it did not have an opening there. Meanwhile, the largest hotel in Sri Lanka – Hotel Lanka Oberoi, in preparation to open in a few months’ time, had advertised many middle management operational job positions. A newspaper advertisement seeking suitably qualified applicants for the posts of chef de partie (station chef) caught my eye. That morning I posted my application to Hotel Lanka Oberoi. That was the first time I applied to a hotel position in writing.
Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena
has been an Executive Chef, Food & Beverage Director, Hotel GM, MD, VP, President, Chairman, Professor, Dean, Leadership Coach and Consultant. He has published 21 text books. This weekly column narrates ‘fun’ stories from his 50-year career in South Asia, the Middle East, Europe, South America, the Caribbean and North America, and his travels to 98 countries and assignments in 44 countries.
From the memoirs of Chandra Wickremasinghe Retired Additional Secretary to the President
With President Chandrika Kumaratunge assuming office, there was once again a flurry of activity in the Presidential Secretariat and in the Ministries, as she was anxious to expeditiously push through various development programmes she had in mind. Although she did not believe in an overly centralized system of Presidential rule, she kept a close tab particularly on the major development projects and programmes of Ministries by having regular review meetings with them.
She was very sincere in her efforts to find an abiding solution to the ethnic problem. Her many overtures to Prabhakaran towards this end, proved futile and abortive as the latter continued playing his little games with her as he had done with her predecessors. With the late Lakshman Kadirgamar, the suave diplomat par excellence, at the helm of the Foreign Ministry, she pursued a highly urbane foreign policy aimed at winning over the neighbouring countries in Asia as well as the major powers in the West, and getting them to align with Sri Lanka in the bitter on-going battle with the LTTE terrorists. These sophisticated approaches in foreign relations enabled Sri Lanka to get the LTTE banned as a terrorist organization in many countries across the globe.
President Kumaratunge possessed a personality which reflected a rather unique amalgam of pride, humility, grace and inner toughness. Kusum Balapatambendi who succeeded Wijedasa as Secretary/President, was basically a clever political firefighter. Being a senior public servant and a smart lawyer to boot, he was able to hold the fort successfully assisting the President in her administrative duties as well as in the many political wrangles she had to settle.
President Kumaratunge had an excellent rapport with the officers who worked for her. There were times when she was needlessly and harshly critical of certain actions of her officials but she was quick to graciously relent when she realized that the concerned officials had acted only in her larger interests. I recall an incident which brings out in good measure the impulsive streak in her personality as well as her magnanimity in graciously admitting her mistakes. Those wielding power, are often inebriated by it and think they are infallible. She was, I must say, an exception in this regard.
It was an interesting little episode where she had dashed off a rather rude minute to me in Sinhala in a file (she had this habit of writing abrasive minutes to officers in Sinhala when she was angry) faulting me for some action I had allegedly not taken. It was a case where I had refrained from taking action as directed by her, for certain very valid reasons which I had pointed out to her in an earlier minute. Without looking at my earlier minute, she had impetuously dashed off this minute of her’s to me; I was naturally very angry, as the office staff too had seen her minute.
I telephoned Sarath Gonagala who had functioned as my Asst. Secy., before I, on my own initiative, sent him to the President to help her maintain her diary of appointments and to ensure that Ambassadors and other VIPs were not kept waiting unduly; (I must say that this attempt of mine proved an unmitigated failure as punctuality and the Lady President continued to remain enemies!) and conveyed to him what she had written on the minute sheet. I also told him that I would be sending a sharp rejoinder on a loose minute sheet which I wanted him to show the President and tear up before sending the file back to me.
Within two days Sarath G telephoned to say the Lady wanted to see me. When I entered her room, she was seated at the desk alone and asked me to take a seat. After a couple of minutes, she looked up and said quietly that she should not have written that minute to me, in reply to which I immediately said ‘of course you shouldn’t have as you had done so without seeing my earlier minute to you on the matter advising against your proposed action, pointing out that it was imprudent to do so as the media would have gone to town on the matter the next day’.
She then asked me “What shall I do?” I was so touched by her show of remorse and the disarming way she readily admitted her mistake that all the anger in me evaporated and I could only request her to send the file back to me. The particular file however, never came back. When I enquired from her about the file much later, she would only smile! I thought of referring to this incident as she was one President you could speak to candidly, on any matter- one to one, without running the grave risk of being misunderstood, with whatever other untoward consequences that may have followed.
Dhammika Amarasinghe and I who continued to function as Additional Secretaries to the President (as Neville Piyadigama had by then left the Presidential Secretariat to take charge of a Ministry), worked very conscientiously for her, with each of us overseeing about six Ministries from the Presidential Secretariat. She was quick and perceptive, sitting with us for long hours, going through our recommendations in detail and making her own additions and subtractions. It was indeed a pleasure working for her as she appreciated the work officers did for her.
The President who was acutely conscious of the need to plan to meet the energy shortages that were likely to occur in the future, was keen on expanding hydro power generation and exploring alternative source of energy like wind and solar power. I headed a delegation comprising senior CEB engineers to study BOT projects etc. in Pakistan and the Philippines in March 1995. One of the recommendation made by the delegation was to obtain the services of Dr. Tariq, the engineer in charge of the Tarbela Dam Project, to advice on the huge leakage of water at the Samanalawewa reservoir. Dr. Tariq visited S.L and made certain recommendations to the govt. which helped in reducing the leakage substantially.
In September 1996 Secretary President and I visited Islamabad to study that country’s success in the implementation of their BOO/BOT projects.
Presidential Committee on the alienation of State Land
Soon after President Kumarathunge assumed office, she appointed me to Chair a Presidential Committee to examine and recommend policies relating to the alienation of State Land. The Committee comprised seven Ministry Secretaries, the Chief Valuer, a representative of the Attorney General etc. When I showed her the names of the Secretaries who were to be members of the Committee, she picked out one name saying she did not want him to be on the Committee as she did not trust him. When I protested and said that the particular Secretary had to be on the Committee as land was a subject that came very much within his purview, she agreed after cautioning me to be careful with any proposals that would be made by him. The recommendations of this Committee were accepted by Govt. and were issued as circular instructions which are, I am happy to note, operative even today, apart from a few amendments made to adjust to changing times and circumstances.
The President’s Fund
President Kumaratunge further appointed me to manage the President’s Fund as Secretary to the Fund. I enjoyed this assignment which I did in addition to my work as Addnl. Secy. to the President. Personally, I found this work most satisfying as I was able to help poor patients suffering particularly from heart and kidney disease with money given from the Fund to undergo cardiac by-pass surgery/kidney transplantation, both in Sri Lanka and abroad. There were many other programmes initiated by President Kumaratunge viz. Presidential Scholarships awarded to promising poor students to pursue higher studies as well as scholarships awarded to public officers to pursue post graduate studies in fields which were considered to be of special relevance to the development needs of the country.
The allocations were generous, and often covered the full cost of by-pass surgery and kidney transplantation and the full cost of the scholarship awards, as the Fund at that stage was well endowed with regular income from the Development Lottery as well as from it’s other investments.
Distinct advantages in working for a President
There are distinct advantages working directly under the President of the country. One privilege I valued very much was that politicians, including Ministers did not interfere with your work and it was also easy to obtain the co-operation of Ministers and officials in the Ministries one oversaw from the President’s office. They were extremely wary in their dealings with you particularly during President Premadasa’s time. But all this came with the heavy responsibility of keeping a tab on anything untoward happening in the Ministries concerned which had to be reported fully to the President along with the detailed explanation given by the Secretary concerned.
President Premadasa in particular, was always watchful of any misdemeanors occurring in Ministries and would follow up on matters till they were rectified. President Kumaratunge did not interfere with the work of Ministers to that extent, but kept herself informed of progress made on development projects etc. at the regular meetings she had with particular Ministries.
When a President realizes that you are a conscientious worker who will work with dedication and integrity, you will be given numerous assignments to study problems and report on them, despite their being subjects falling at times, outside your officially assigned legitimate functions.
by M. P. Dhanapala
Former Director, Rice Research and Development Institute, Batalagoda
Email: [email protected]
History is important. It keeps you away from reinventing the wheel and repeating the mistakes already committed in the past. In history, there should not be hidden expressions to read between lines as “the ten giants of King Dutugamunu were fed with traditional rice,”concealing the details of what the others were eating and why they were not giants or that “we have been exporting rice during the past in such and such era” without disclosing the quantities and the recipient countries. For that matter if you go through the export details, we do export rice even now.
The green revolution was criticized as the contributing factor for the so called unidentified Kidney Disease of Unknown Origin (CKDu) which was reported primarily from the North Central Province. Whatever the causal factor of CKDu is, Norman Borlaug or his green revolution has nothing to do with the kidney disease or rice in Sri Lanka. It is true that his innovative ideology in wheat breeding induced the rice breeders worldwide to develop a physiologically efficient rice plant type by changing the plant stature and canopy characteristics. The Sri Lankan rice varieties were developed within the country, by the Sri Lankan scientists. It was an extension of the breeding process initiated by the British scientists during the colonial era. The progress of rice breeding from its inception by different generations will be unfolded in this write-up to judge the calculated decisions taken by the ancestral breeders to improve rice productivity in the country.
I would like to lay the baseline from a report published by Edward Elliott, a British Civil Servant in 1913. (Tropical Agriculturist, Vol. XLI, No. 6, Dec. 1913). He states that the forced labor (Rajakariya) that existed then was abolished in 1832. Subsequently, the communal cooperation system (Atththam) also ceased to exist gradually. These two incidents were cited as the major reasons for the neglect of irrigation structures and subsequent decline of rice production in the mid 19th Century. The annual rice production estimated for the period of 10 years ending in 1856 was 5.5 million bushels, the lowest in the recorded history.
Enacting the Paddy Ordinance in 1857 allowed voluntary restoration of old irrigation structures which eventually led to the gradual increase in the cultivated extent and the annual rice production. Estimated rice production data during this era and at the turn of the century are summarized in Table 1. The original data were in acres and bushels. The data were transformed into hectares and kilograms and tonnes assuming 20 kg as the bushel weight. The transformed data in Table 1 appear within parentheses.
See table 1.
Annual rice production statistics from the latter half of the 19th and early 20th Century (Elliot, 1913)
The rice production data above are estimates based on returns from paddy, probably grain tax, in the Government Blue Books. You may realize that these estimates are sometimes too high when actual data appear towards 1940s. However, at the turn of the 19th Century, the rice varieties were exclusively traditional types maintained by farmers and the Department of Agriculture was not established.
Many critics maintain that we had innumerable different varieties of rice in the past. The earliest recorded in the history was a collection of 300 rice varieties displayed by Nugawela Dissawe for the agri-horticultural exhibition held in 1902 (Molegoda, 1924) (Trop. Agric. XLII (4): 218-224.). This probably represented almost all the cultivars in the field during this period. This was the largest collection of rice varieties in the recorded history in Ceylon, leaving out the recent collections performed in the latter half of the 20th century. Molegoda explains very comprehensively the status of rice varieties and the procedure followed in naming them.
The rice cultivation at the beginning of 20th century was entirely organic manure dependent. The farmers then were apparently more competent in traditional methods of rice cultivation. The most striking feature during this era was that the average yields were below one ton/ha (<20 bu/ac) even in the best productive year, 1903 (Table 1).
In 1914, an encouraging note on Extension of Paddy Cultivation by A. W. Beven (Trop. Agric. XLIII (6): 421-424.) appears with the suggestion of seed selection to improve rice yields. He states that in the year 1913 the yield estimate of 9,622,320 bushels was too high a target, i.e.14.2 bu/ac (0.71 t/ha), for the cultivated extent of 671,711ac (271,827ha), but suggests that with seed selection accompanied by proper land preparation, manuring and transplanting, the yields could be increased up to 25 bu/ac (1.25t/ha). This suggestion was at the inception of the Department of Agriculture which was established in 1912.
The earliest record on rice varietal improvement dates back to seed selection in 1914 by Dr. Lock at Peradeniya. This was done more or less parallel with the establishment of Johannsen’s pure line theory (1903). In the literature, Dr. Lock’s improved Hatial (a seven month variety) appears from time to time as a standard variety in yield tests.
The next most important step was the pure-line selection. Initially, three Economic Botanists, F. Summers (1921), R.O. Iliffe (1922), L. Lord (1927) and at latter stages Paddy Officer G.V. Wickremasekera were involved in the selection of pure- lines (Trop. Agric. LVIII (2): 67-70; Trop. Agric. LXVIII (5): 309-318). Pure-line selection exploited heterogeneity within the farmer maintained traditional rice cultivars. Each cultivar composed of different types within it. As a result, individual plant selection within cultivars produced progenies with better genetic potential, but resembling the mother plant selected; they bred true to type as rice is an obligate inbreeder. This was the essence of pure-line theory established by Johannsen (1903).
Pure-line selection was initiated with a representative collection of traditional varieties. The most popular varieties were included in the process. Pure-line selection was done at two major locations, Mahailluppallama and Peradeniya. Subsequently, selection was regionalized to accommodate regionally adapted varieties in the process. The best isolated progenies were tested at 19 test locations in different agro-ecological regions for adaptability, prior to recommendation. The best adapted pure-lines (21 lines – Table 2) were identified for purity maintenance at four different paddy stations – Ambalantota (nine lines), Mahailluppallama (eight lines), Madampe (two lines) and Batalagoda (two lines). Further multiplication of seeds was done in government farms under the supervision of Agricultural Officers and distributed as seed paddy for cultivation (Trop. Agric. CIV (2): 97-98.).
See table 2.
Pure-line varieties identified for cultivation (Extract from Amended Departmental Circular No. 156 – Trop. Agric. CIV (2): 97-98.)
While the pure-line selection process was on, Joachim (1927) (Trop. Agric. LXIX 137) warned that the sustenance of increased yields by cultivation of high yielding pure-lines has to be met with liberal manuring. However, despite of all these attempts during the two decades from 1920s, the paddy yields were not substantially increased (Table 3). Rice yield data presented in Table 3 shows lower values compared to yield estimates from Government Blue Books presented in Table 1. The data in Table 3 being more reliable, the Table 1 data could be overestimates.
However, the majority of the harvested rice crop in the 1940s could be from potentially better pure-line selections, but the yields were much below the anticipated levels. The total production was around 15 million bushels (0.3 m tons) and yields stagnated at around 14 bu/ac (0.7 t/ha).
The Draft Scheme for Development of the Paddy Industry in Ceylon drawn in 1945 (Trop. Agric. CI (3) 191-195) begins with the statement that only a third of the annual requirement is met by the local rice production.
The balance was imported; the population was less than seven million during that period and the paddy cultivation was done organically with the best adapted pure-lines of traditional cultivars, though it failed to deliver what was intended.
The importance of inorganic (chemical) fertilizer was felt during this period as the only option to improve paddy yields further. Use of sodium nitrate (Na NO3) as the source of nitrogen (N) was attempted in rice prior to 1905 based on American experience in soybean cultivation, but nitrite (NO2–) toxicity under reduced conditions in submerged paddy soils prohibited its use. Superiority of NH4 form of N was demonstrated by Nagaoka (1905) and Daikuhara and Imaseki (1907). However, the application of N promoted vegetative growth in pure-lines derived from traditional rice varieties causing premature lodging. Furthermore, two fungal diseases, blast and brown spot, became prominent. Around this period some introduced varieties were tested without much success. Among them, Ptb 16 from Pathambi, India, popularly called Riyan wee, with long panicles and slender grains (Buriyani rice) became popular, but self sufficiency in rice appeared to be far away.
Transition to another phase in rice breeding began as the rice breeders over the world employed cross-bred populations to create genetic variability to bring together desirable characteristics of different rice cultivars to develop better varieties. Rice hybridization techniques were developed around early 1920s and a major break through in changing the plant-type was accomplished in Japan with the use of Jikkoku, a dwarf natural mutant of Japonica rice. The performance of Japonica varieties exhibited substantial improvement with this transition. Influenced by the Japanese experience, the Food and Agriculture Organization sponsored a cross breeding program of Japonica with Indica rices in Cuttak, India to change the Indica plant type too in this direction, but without success due to incompatibility between the two groups (Japonica and Indica) leading to grain sterility in subsequent generations.
In Sri Lanka, the first paper on rice hybridization techniques was published in 1951 by J.J. Niles, an assistant in Economic Botany, guided by Prof. M. F. Chandraratne, the Economic Botanist (Trop. Agric. CVII (1):25-29.). Prof. Chandraratne was instrumental in initiation of rice hybridization. Simultaneously rice hybridization work began at the Dry Zone Agricultural Research Station at Mahailluppallama under the guidance of Dr. Ernest Abeyratne. The Central Rice Breeding Station, Batalagoda was established in 1952 and Dr. H. Weeraratne was transferred from Mahailluppallama to Batalagoda as the rice breeder with the hybrid populations already developed at Mahailluppallama.
Dr. Weeraratne, influenced by his superiors, Prof. Chandraratne and Dr. Abeyratne, continued rice hybridization to create genetic variability for selection. The hybridization techniques adopted by him were published in 1954 (Trop. Agric. CX (2) 93-97). Apparently, the labor intensive pedigree method was employed by Dr. Weeraratne to identify and fix desirable genotypes from segregating populations. And this was the beginning of the “H” series of varieties that revolutionized the rice sector in Sri Lanka. The letter “H” was used to imply that the varieties were of hybrid origin and were different from traditional varieties or pure-lines, but not to imply that they are hybrids.
The Central Rice Breeding Station, Batalagoda, Department of Agriculture
The first of the series, H4 (4.5 month, red bold), released in 1957, reached its peak popularity after a five year lapse of time and covered over 60% of the cultivated extent in Maha season, 62/63. The others in the series were H7 (3.5 month, white bold), H8 (4.5 month, white samba), H9 (5-6 month, white bold), H10 (3 month, red bold). Release of H varieties (1) minimized crop losses due to blast disease, (2) changed rice cropping pattern from single to double cropping, (3) use of N fertilizer increased by 350% due to their moderate response to fertilizer, (4) increased national yield level up to 3.5 t/ha (Senadhira et. al., Rice Symposium, Department of Agriculture, 1980). This effort, though appreciated widely, fell short of self sufficiency again.
The most controversial phase for the critics in rice breeding was initiated in mid 1960s, while “H” varieties were replacing the pure-lines and the traditional varieties from paddy fields. The International Rice Research Institute was established in 1960 and the plant physiologists conceptualized the plant type structure of rice to make it physiologically efficient. The development of “H” varieties (Old Improved Varieties) abruptly ended with these new innovations.
The breeders responsible for developing this new plant type in Sri Lanka, specifically the Bg varieties, were Dr. H. Weeraratne, Dr. N. Vignarajah, Dr. D. Senadhira and Mr. C.A. Sandanayake. None of them are among us any more. I joined the team in the late 1960s, at the tail end of H varieties and continued the process till the country reached the brim of self reliance in rice.
The Bg and other modern varieties are physiologically efficient. They are devoid of unproductive plant tissues and ineffective tillers. The plant structure is designed to reduce mutual shading of leaves and trap solar radiation effectively by every leaf in the canopy thus reducing the respiratory losses and promoting the net assimilation rate. They out yield traditional and H varieties at any level of soil fertility and show positive grain yield response to added fertilizer. They are lodging resistant and incorporated with resistance/tolerance to major pests and diseases prevalent in the country. More preciously, we have reversed the source-sink relationship of the rice plant to translocate photosynthates to produce more grains and less straw. The potential yield of improved varieties exceeds 6t/ha. All these traits listed above have been tested in controlled experiments in the field to confirm the superiority of new improved varieties. We reap around 4.5 tons/ha as our national average yield at present; the country is self sufficient in rice, the dream every political leader had since independence.
This in a nut shell is what the rice breeders have accomplished and for which they were given the title “Kumbandayas” in an article written apparently by a medical professional. The local rice scientists embark only on innovations backed by scientific facts. They do not have to exaggerate or lie. They know little more than those who seek cheap popularity by being critical about the accomplishments of rice scientists. This country needs people dedicated and confined to their respective professions allowing other professionals to play their own role. At any time rice breeders can take the country back to the traditional rice era if you want to begin all over again from the beginning. The traditional accessions are in long-term storage at the Plant Genetic Resource Center (PGRC), Gannoruwa, Department of Agriculture, and can be taken out for multiplication at any time as the seed samples are viable.
Now I repent why we produced rice with more grains and less straw. There appears to be unsatisfied demand for straw. I like to conclude this disclosure with a statement made by Dr. N. M. Perera at the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya in the mid 1960s. “Comrade, I can give you facts and figures, but I am sorry; I am unable to implant a brain in you”.
(The writer holds a Ph D, Genetics and Plant Breeding, North Dakota University, USA, 1990, M Sc., Plant Breeding, Saga University, Japan, 1978 and B sc. Agric. University of Ceylon, Sri-Lanka, 1968. He has served as Research Officer, Rice Breeding (1969 – 1995) Central Rice Breeding Station, Batalagoda, Director, Rice Research and Development Institute, (1996 – 2000), Batalagoda, Affiliate Scientist, International Rice Research Institute (2000 – 2003), Philippines and Technical Advisor, JICA,, Tsukuba International Center, (2004 – 2012), Japan)
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