By Kumar David –
Maybe he is old enough and senior enough and fed up with whelps snapping at his ankles; maybe this is the tip of an iceberg of brewing internal convulsions, but Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne has hit out at politicised and corrupt monks. In characteristic parlance he has voiced the need to disrobe them and send them down river in their underpants. He feels secure; no one dare fell this old mara tree he reckons. He may or may not be right, but he is creating one hell of a bonfire with gay abandon; the old fellow may even be enjoying himself.
The JHU and its boss, Omalpe Sobitha in the meantime have sent a Rs 1 billion letter of demand to the PM for insulting the monk in public and causing irreparable damage to his reputation. Dimu (Disanayake Mudiyanselage) has called some monks cheevaradhariyas, an expression similar to ‘men of the cloth’ commonly used in English for robed Christian clergy. I don’t see what’s so offensive. Politicos in national dress are referred to as redhas, does anyone take offence, does anyone take offence? I doubt it.
The tussle has gone beyond the original fracas when one of the PM’s secretaries issued a letter asking the Customs Department to release a container which turned out to be stuffed with contraband heroin. I think it highly unlikely that Dimu is a dope smuggler, and when he says he is clueless what the stuff even looks like, the old fogey is being truthful. But he is a lousy judge in hiring staff or in the choice of people to entertain. So it is fair to call for his resignation as a necessary formality to facilitate impartial investigation. (But whoever conforms to right political etiquette in Lanka any longer?) In any case this has all become a farcical sideshow; whatever the facts of the Customs case, centre stage is now hogged by a crisis in the governing alliance.
The visible protagonists are populist Dimu on one side, and extremist monks on the other. But below the surface are the traditional old-time SLFpers, who must be hoping that the problem would go away and not force them into a confrontation with President Mahinda and Defence Secretary Gotha (beloved of the Sinhala-Buddhist extremists), and on the other side a clique gathered close to Gota and agreeable to Mahinda. It is most unlikely that the SLFP old-timers are setting up Dimu, and unlikely that Mahinda is directly behind the JHU and monkish challenge. It is more likely that accidental events and clashes are loosening a chain of events that principals on both sides are unable to deal with. In politics, invariably, minor earth slips enlarge to move mountains in this way.
Still, for water sprouts to become torrents, the environment has to be primed. The background problem is that the Rajapakses does not trust the traditional old SLFP hands. The President is making a hash of things (impeachment of the Chief Justice, arrogant impunity for hangers on, promotion of corrupt incompetent, sycophants – Mervin), and he is getting into hot water internationally. If the ship starts to list, the rats will not hesitate to look for another captain, female or male. This is not yet openly in play in the Dimu versus cheevaradhariya saga, but peripheral issues are bringing deeper antagonisms to the surface. Dimu’s roots lie deep in the old SLFP; now he is a cross old man and SLFP stalwarts dare not sanction his sacrifice at the Rajapakse-JHU gallows without risking their own survival.
As with electricity prices, the Chief Justice impeachment, university teachers strike, the shooting of a worker in Weliveriya, Mervyn scandals, and many other crises, this one too may blow over. Some bogus formula to paper over the war of words may be found. But it is a bit difficult to see who will climb down and who will lose face. Volatility is also accumulating in the broader political domain. I expect to see it first in the electoral framework, not in any extra-parliamentary fracas. That’s a good thing if only people would vote with their brains not their jaundiced livers.
There is however one final caveat. If Dimu steps down who will replace him? If it is another sibling or member of the Rajapakse clan, forget it, I would rather forgo political niceties and have Dimu stay on. No way must a replacement be considered unless Rajapakse gives a public assurance that it will be a person who is independent of the family-power monopoly centre. It is more important to prevent the cartel from further consolidating power in its hands, than to worry about etiquette and appearances.