Jackboots in the Bandaranaike Academe. Cabral as Mussolini

TDSinhaRaja Tammita-Delgoda, in Sunday Island,


The strains of baila wafted from the classroom. A new year and a new dawn. Newspapers proclaimed the triumph of “Yahapalanaya” (Good Governance). Good Governance had triumphed over dishonesty, corruption, nepotism, fear, favouritism and blithering incompetence. They promised the return of due process, international standards, tolerance and civilized behavior; impartiality, honesty and the promotion of excellence would be the new order of the day. Good had won out over evil; the end of the “Dark Ages.’ I waited eagerly. I had invited the new supremo, a high priest of the new order to my lecture. Apparently an educationalist of some experience, I hoped he would usher a “Golden Age” of light and learning.

Students hurried by purposefully. It looked like they were keen to get to class. Some were keen to listen to their favourite songs. Others were just as eager to finish their lunch. It all seemed so encouraging. The baila died away. So did the rustle of paper bags and the sounds of munching.

The high priest rushed in, bristling with importance. I welcomed him warmly, a trifle effusively perhaps. After all he was the new head of the institution.

r cabraal Ranjith Cabral at two moments cabraal 2

A slide on the wall proclaimed “India. Internal Challenges.” It was one of a series of classes which had been taught before time began. I was the latest in a long line of teachers. I began. My guest asked loud. “What’s this lecture about?” Slowly and gently I read out the letters on the wall.

I started to speak.

El Supremo burst in ‘What has this got to do with International Relations?”

I tried not to look stunned. 40 pairs of eyes looked at me, puzzled. I considered for a moment, then explained gently.

“Well,” I paused to think. “Our internal policies affect the way we conduct our international relations. They also affect the way other nations see us and deal with us. ”

I resumed the class.

“Why are you teaching it? “He interrupted

Because I was asked to, I was tempted to reply. I smiled instead.

“This whole section is about South Asia and India is the most important component in it.” ‘Its the big thing in the middle of the map,’ I was tempted to add. I did not. I smiled warmly. He did not. I motored on. Images flashed across the screen, unravelling India’s rising domestic and social challenges. We had reached communalism and rising ethnic tensions.

“How do you define democracy?” El Supremo addressed the class. I stopped talking.

40 pairs of eyes looked at me again, wondering what to do. I tried to look as if it was an integral part of the lecture and nodded encouragingly. “Please answer the question.”

One of the students answered. El Supremo listened for a few minutes, then proceeded to give his own answer at length. A speech on democracy ensued; it was after all an essential part of Good Governance.

I listened attentively. Minutes ticked by. I tried not to look at the clock. The speech continued. I wondered what to do. I cast my mind back, India, England, the USA. It was the first time this had ever happened before. The right of a lecturer to conduct his own class is considered one of the most basic of intellectual freedoms. In most of these countries there would be howls of protest, demonstrations, strikes and walk outs. I toyed with a walk out, decided against it. ‘What if nobody noticed?’

The sermon finally came to an end. I returned to India’s Internal Challenges. Trying to keep the flow moving, I swept rapidly through ideas, events and theories. I thought a video would do the trick. El Supremo remained silent. The video stopped.

“What do think of the 19th Amendment?”

I stopped in mid flow. This was a new dimension to India’s Internal Challenges. Everyone looked at me. I decided to make a stand.

“I am sorry. I never discuss politics in my classroom.”

It was one of the unwritten codes of teaching, a norm of conduct in classrooms round the world. I wondered how I was going to teach the rest of the session.

My guest turned to the class instead. “What do you think of the 19th Amendment? Answer the question!” There was silence. Even in the “Dark Ages” this had never happened before. Politics had abounded. They had never been brought into the classroom. It was a clear assertion of power.

I responded diplomatically. “It is an interesting question. Does anyone have any thoughts?” I looked around supportively, inclining my head. One of the more confident students stepped up. I was careful not to catch his eye. Looking at El Supremo, he began “Well, sir. this is what I think.”

The high priest started to argue. The student argued back. India’s Internal Challenges receded from view. Finally, I stepped in. “Thank you gentlemen. Perhaps you would like to continue this discussion during the tea break. For my part I need my cup of tea.” I smiled decisively.

There were a few knowing smiles, some nervous titters. It was half time. I turned the baila back on and C.T. Fernando’s golden melodies floated through the air. The whole room relaxed. My guest stormed out. I knew then that I would not teach here again. As I watched him bustle out, I wondered: what will happen to the Bandaranaike Centre of International Studies (BCIS)?

Founded by Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike in 1975, the BCIS has played a pioneer role in the promotion of International Studies in Sri Lanka. Its mission was to impart knowledge and to educate the public. The BCIS Postgraduate Diploma still attracts a wide array of professionals from every part of the country – lawyers, journalists, government officials, military officers, teachers and private sector executives. Many of them are quite senior and some are very high powered. The people who taught them tended to be equally high powered-diplomats, attorney generals, senior professors and renowned scholars, many of them authorities in their field, with national and international reputations.

Recent times however, have seen far reaching changes. In a very short time, other institutions have made rapid headway. In less than a year and a half the Kotelawela Defence University has established itself as a premier venue for strategic studies and international relations. The Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute too, was once a moribund institution. Within the space of two years, it had been transformed into an intellectual, political and social hub. Conferences were held, reports and journals were published, international collaborations were set underway and groundbreaking initiatives launched. Recently it was announced that the Lakshman Kadirgarmar Institute too, will soon be offering degrees. Unless drastic changes are made and made soon, the BCIS is in danger of being left very far behind.

If it is to compete, the BCIS will have to offer degrees, publish its own books and journals, conduct panel discussions, stage national and international seminars and public lectures. In short it will have to live up to its mandate. It will also have to attract and keep the best teachers, offer new courses and galvanize students who are willing and able to pay. These are the yardsticks by which centres of excellences are judged all round the world.

Several months later I was requested to teach a new course- Power Politics in South Asia. One of the stipulated components focused on Extra Regional Power Involvements in South Asia. I noticed that Pakistan had been designated one of the four extra regional powers. I wondered. Had there been a seismic shift which had somehow escaped my attention? A subtle reflection of the new trends in Sri Lanka’s foreign policy? A sign of the times perhaps? Maybe it was me. I was clearly behind the times, out of step with the powers that be. I was glad that I had already made my decision.

“Good Governance” has been preached and practised for more than a year. There is still nothing to show. There is not even the promise of anything, not even a whiff. Public institutions they say, tend to reflect the country in which they have to operate. One hopes that this is not a metaphor.

There is much talk of developing the human potential of this country. As an institute which attracts such a wide range of professionals, the BCIS has always had tremendous human potential. Professionals however, are drawn by professional standards and professional conduct. Professionals also expect to be treated with respect and courtesy, they cannot be scolded like naughty children.

A longstanding and popular lecturer was suddenly dispensed with. No one ever told him why. His words are sobering. “Politics come and go but institutions must go on.” This is the stuff of nation building. In the final analysis, it is results which matter. Results are produced by excellence: this is one of the essential components of good governance. So is competence, presumably.

Institutions such as the BCIS are the standard bearers of reputation and credibility. They determine how we are seen and how we are judged. They are difficult to build and easy to destroy, ultimately they are part of what we leave behind. There is more than one legacy at stake here. The writing is on the wall and the letters are very clear.

Mirror Mirror on the Wall ….

***   ***

Dr. SinhaRaja Tammita-Delgoda was lecturer in South Asian Studies at the Bandaranaike Centre of International Studies from 2010-2015

SINHARAJA Tammita-Delgoda–

traveller's India



The Living Strain of History- Sinharaja Tammita DelgodaCeylon Today 24 January 2016

About SinhaRaja Tammita-Delgoda: An Intrepid Seeker and A Man of Diverse Talents


Dr. Ranjith Cabral: Chairman/BCIS Board of Studies & Director/BCIS  Member/BOS

Prof. Gamini Keerawella: Member/BOS

Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy: Member/BOS

Mr. Danesan Casie Chetty: Member/BOS

Mr. Tissa Jayatilaka: Member/BOS

Mrs. Sonali Wijeratne: Member/BOS


1 Comment

Filed under accountability, education, governance, Indian Ocean politics, life stories, performance, politIcal discourse, power politics, self-reflexivity, sri lankan society, unusual people, zealotry

One response to “Jackboots in the Bandaranaike Academe. Cabral as Mussolini

  1. Hugh

    Never heard of this Cabral – who is obviously taking his 2 minutes in the limelight seriously. This is Yahapalanaya at its notorious worst!! This guy should be stopped in his tracks.

Leave a Reply to HughCancel reply