By A. Ilango –
The Opposition’s election rally held in Nallur on 30th December was attended by a large crowd that came spontaneously. By contrast Rajapaksa’s rally held on the Jaffna esplanade on 2nd January involved a huge effort and bribery, using the government machinery in Jaffna and all those given jobs in government and public institutions over several years on political quotas. Being on call by their political bosses for occasions like this is more important than their duties in assigned places of work. The result has been a steep rise in lack of initiative, incompetence and indifference.
Rats in the sinking ship?
On 2nd January a forum styled Momentum was organised by the Government at Tilko City Hotel facing the esplanade for which academics and professionals were invited and asked to be seated by 9.00 AM. Apart from the President and his secretary, the main speaker was Prof. Balasundarampillai, a former VC of Jaffna University and member of the Council. Speakers claimed credit for the student from Jaffna who topped the A. Levels in Mathematics, for getting that there had been outstanding performances when students had to study by the light of kerosene lamps during the 1990s. One speaker promised to make Jaffna the educational hub of Sri Lanka – though how it could be do
ne given the dead weight resulting from the recruitment of poor quality academics under Balasundarampillai’s vice-chancellorship, which continues to this day, was not explained.
Usually at such functions, university persons, several of whom have secured prominence by being more than willing to take political instructions from Ministers Devananda and S.B. Dissanayake, would have participated prominently. But at the Momentum function the University’s presence as seen in the television footage was very low key. Only one professor of Agriculture was listed among the speakers.
What was of greater significance was the President’s address of Samurdhi recipients that was arranged to make the occasion a grand show. It demonstrated the political cost of running a government using automatons with no sense of purpose, no concern for people, no use for their intelligence and no imagination, who could only function as menials on elementary instructions.
The idea seemed to some a sure route to election victory. People who wanted hand outs had been asked to come to Samurdhi offices that are meant to help the poor to make a living. They were promised Rs. 10,000 each, 2500 upon registration and the balance 7500 after their attendance was marked at Rajapaksa’s election rally. They were literally treated like cattle. On the morning of the 2nd they were to be bussed for the rally. All CTB buses that are crucial for public transport were commandeered for this purpose. From early in the morning the crowds were bussed, the later ones getting there by 9.30 AM. Many had understood that they would be given the balance Rs. 7500 when they marked attendance at the rally. They were told that the sum would be paid at some future date.
The disorganization was evident from the start. Many of the people had been told that they would meet the President at Veerasingam Hall, just east of Tilco. That is the Cooperative Hall with decent seating and the people thought they would actually meet the President. They did not take account of the heat of the sun and had left behind their umbrellas, for as it turned out they were herded into Duraiappah Stadium, where cover and seating was provided for only a small fraction of the huge crowd of mainly elderly men, women and children. Others did not have chairs and many could not even enter the stadium. They mainly sat on newspapers in the sun outside the boundary fence.
By the time the President came to address them it was 11.30 AM and by then the people were dreadfully tired, especially those who were left in the sun. This can be seen even in the official photographs of those seated under cover. Most of the people hardly got a glimpse of the President.
The numbers were huge, well over 10,000, 15 bus loads or about 1200 people from Karainagar alone. Refreshment, plastic bags containing bottled water, milk and buns, was brought in lorries. But there were no means to distribute these to the milling crowd. There was a rush and the distribution became disorganised. Many could not even get there. The refreshment bags were then thrown into the crowd. In the resulting crush people got hurt, one girl who was almost asphyxiated was rushed to the hospital for emergency care according to local media reports.
The result was an anti-climax. Unable to bear the heat people started leaving by around mid-day well before the end of the meeting, finding their own transport. Normal commuters were left cursing, such as office workers and those who had to go to distant places like Udupiddy for funerals or other urgent business. Many stayed at home for the fear of being stranded.
Many were angry about the whole affair. The folk in the North have been affected by the war and lack job opportunities, means of getting into a viable trade and generally lack opportunity for upward mobility. Owing to this they face a dilemma when they are given promises and are asked to come for political functions. They see no other way out. One cannot say how they would vote and one must sympathise with them. But one could guess that a significant number would vote for the Opposition.
Jaffna folk have long been isolated from serious political discussion. However the fact that there was going to be genuine competition in this election, and the result would affect them, had awakened interest mainly among younger persons. One could see many of them wanting to do something about changing the government. If such interest increases the TNA would start feeling the heat. Having declared its support for the Opposition, it has done next to nothing on politically educating the people, something perhaps it never did.