By Sonali Samarasinghe
Despite President Mahinda Rajapaksa distributing countless letters of referral for his personal shaman Eliyantha White, he told a friend the controversial healer was a dangerous man as he dabbled in the spirit world.
In a recent conversation with a Colombo businessman and a close friend of slain editor Lasantha Wickrematunge, Rajapaksa confided that even he (Rajapaksa) felt White was dangerous as his brand of healing required a great deal of dabbling in the spirit world.
Indeed according to Eliyantha himself all human ailments are due to the sins of past births. “It is also called Nila Sashthraya,” he is quoted as saying. “When someone sits before me with an ailment I can study his reports and feel his system, but what is more important is that I can see a light, as small as a welder’s sparkle and I begin to hear and sense the medication for his ailment.”
Some call him a miracle doctor others call him a charlatan but whether you are a believer or not, the dispute promises to intensify.
President Rajapaksa’s own misgivings about his personal supernatural healer comes at a time the medicine man is embroiled in a controversy over administering banned drugs to one of Sri Lanka’s world cup players and opening batsman Upul Tharanga.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) has announced that medical examinations have found Upul Tharanga to have taken banned substances. However Sri Lanka Cricket’s (SLC) CEO Ajit Jayasekera told Lanka Independent that SLC had not yet been officially informed about it by the ICC.
Meanwhile the Ministry of Sports in Sri Lanka confirmed that Sri Lankan cricketer Upul Tharanga had indeed failed a drug test during the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011, and a local media report in the Sunday Times, Sri Lanka said he has been tested positive for prednisolone, allegedly administered to him by White.
The head of the National Sports Council and the National Council on Banned Substances, Dr. Geetanjana Mendis was this week quoted in the local media as saying Eliyantha White had permission to treat Sri Lanka’s sportsmen and women. How he was able to get permission to treat the nation’s best athletes and sports persons in an official capacity and why there was no better monitoring process by the Ministry and the governing authority is alarming but not surprising.
The Sports Ministry has now appointed a three-member panel of inquiry into the matter. When contacted by Lanka Independent, Dr. Mendis said he could not expand on the Upul Tharanga issue as there was an ongoing inquiry but he would be willing to give details at a later date. Sri Lanka Cricket told this website they were awaiting word from the ICC and would prepare to defend Tharanga at an ICC Tribunal. A Tribunal hearing would most likely result in a ban.
Eliyantha White travelled with Sri Lanka’s World Cup team from February-April this year – a series that ended in bitter disappointment for the Sri Lankans when they were decisively beaten in the final by India. The defeat came amidst allegations of match fixing and bookie connections to the Chairman of Sri Lanka Cricket D.S.De Silva – some of those allegations emanating from Sri Lanka’s former captain Arjuna Ranatunga. Ranatunga also accused President Rajapaksa of ruining cricket with his interference.
And now it is Rajapaksa’s medicine man Eliyantha White, whose airline tickets, accommodation and related expenses were fully covered by Sri Lanka Cricket during the 2011 World Cup, who seems to have caused the most trouble.
What was surprising and ironic was that Sri Lanka’s captain Kumar Sangakkara, (who later resigned amid match fixing allegations) even thanked Eliyantha White in his losing captain’s speech at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai even as India became the first team to win a World Cup on home soil.
Little wonder really, all this. From a man who repaired car stereos to the healer he claims to be today – he owes his meteoric rise to his most ardent fan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. In fact it is from the presidential secretariat that his appointments are handled and admittedly millions of rupees are paid out by the President’s funds to enable White to bring down secret herbs and nettles from the farthest corners of mysterious India, Bhutan, Nepal and presumably from the foothills of the Himalayas.
And yet reportedly the miracle herb administered to Upul Tharanga was identified as a pharmaceutical in western medicine usually given for inflammatory and auto immune conditions such as Asthma and wheezing. White, who is not trained, nor a physician nor registered with the Sri Lanka Medical Council as it happens, is allegedly violating Sri Lanka’s laws by prescribing and practicing western medicine. Quack comes quickly to mind.
Be that as it may, President Rajapaksa, himself well in the grip of astrology – as are most Sri Lankans – does not shy away from offering the services of Eliyantha White with the easy confidence of a second hand car salesman.
Rajapaksa also uses White as a go between and tool to reach out to and meet with local politicians, movie stars, Indian cricketers and journalists from across the divide and the Palk Strait. It’s the perfect excuse to meet his favourite Bollywood hero or cricketing personality.
Opposition United National Party (UNP) member Lakshman Seneviratne now firmly on Rajapakse’s political team is a case in point.
India’s cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar another. Tendulkar however has been known to praise White’s abilities in public and revile them in private.
What is more powerful when trying to affect a rapprochement, crossover or connection than focusing on the other’s health issues? It couldn’t fail. Alas in many cases it did. Not for Rajapaksa perhaps but certainly for those who tried the White method.
Eliyantha White was one of the two go-betweens that Rajapaksa had nominated to affect a rapprochement between Lasantha Wickrematunge and himself. When Lasantha was taken to the Kalubowila hospital after the attack on him on January 8, 2009 Eliyantha White had arrived in the hospital corridor leading to the operating room and he spoke to me. He showed me a tightly wound small copper scroll which he asked me to put under Lasantha’s head. ‘President Rajapaksa asked me to do this,’ he said. ‘Don’t worry just put this under his head and everything will be fine.’ Tiran Alles, Malik Samarawickrema and Dr Jayalath Jayawardena were witness to this conversation.
By this time Lasantha was in the operating theatre being urgently attended to by doctors. Obviously only medical personnel were allowed in even though Lasantha’s close friends like Malik Samarawickrema, Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu and Tiran Alles were right outside the door with me. My sister’s husband who is also a doctor was the only family member present with Lasantha inside the theatre as doctors attended to him.
In any event I was too distraught at the time to do anything but watch the door of the operating room. It was Jayalath Jayawardena, a physician himself who took the object and said he would attend to it as directed by Eliyantha White.
Sri Lanka’s fiery fast bowler Lasith Malinga was one of the first cricketers to be treated by Eliyantha White.
Having injured his knee playing in Australia in February 2008 Malinga was in deep pain. His knee joint was painful and he couldn’t walk or run. He was treated for the injury and is even quoted as saying Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) did their best to get him all the treatment he needed. But his knee pain had not subsided. Malinga also underwent extended treatment in Australia with medication and a saline drip which he says lessened his pain. But he was asked not to run and the pain had not completely subsided.
Somewhere in August 2008 he received a call from President Rajapaksa offering him the services of Eliyantha White. The treatment administered by White which lasted over five days was a course of medication presumably infused with the powers of the universe. Malinga did get better in five days and his pain went away. But some skeptics call this the placebo effect. And despite all the fanfare, today, Lasith Malinga has had to bow out of test cricket due to his injury.
Sri Lanka Cricket’s Chief, Ajit Jayasekera is careful to defend the situation. He told Lanka Independent yesterday the only reason Malinga opted out of test cricket was because he needed to manage his injury. For instance in a 20 over match like in the IPL he would bowl about 4 overs or in a one day game – 10 overs. But in a Test match he would have to bowl many more overs and that would affect his knee. It’s just management, Jayasekera said.
Nevertheless, another common element in some of those who were treated by White is that they seem to get better, even totally cured for a while and then get much worse. Meanwhile many others including senior politicians, lawyers and journalists to whom White had been recommended either by the President himself or by other parties who knew White directly, politely declined the offers of service.
Others have not been so circumspect and it has come at a price. Sri Lanka’s Bantam Weight Boxer, Manju Wanniarachchi a gold medalist at the Commonwealth Games 2010 was last month stripped of his medal testing positive for banned substances and there are now reports he too was treated by Eliyantha White.
Certainly, whether he dabbles in the spirit world as claimed by President Rajapaksa, or not, the Eliyantha White blowup is not going away any time soon.
Rajapaksa is being accused of ruining Sri Lanka’s sports by interfering in selections, allowing his son Namal to get involved in matters best left to governing bodies and most significantly foisting on Sri Lanka’s sporting escutcheon a questionable supernatural healer of sorts as a credible practitioner of sports medicine.
Let’s face it. Sri Lanka has two main religions. Buddhism and Cricket. Last week Arjuna Ranatunga Sri Lanka’s most prominent cricketing personality blamed the nation’s World Cup loss squarely on Rajapaksa. Now, as Upul Tharanga’s case unfolds, President Rajapaksa will have to grapple with his own relationship with the shaman at the centre of the controversy.