By H. L. D. Mahindapala –
On February 27 the “My-3” Troika, consisting of Chandrika Bandaranaike,(CBK), Ranil Wickremesinghe and Maithripala Sirisena, passed its half-way mark on its vaunted pilgrimage to political nirvana which, they said, would be achieved in 100 days. This is the solemn promise they gave the people and, unless they are to be dismissed as a pack of con artistes, their word must be taken seriously.
So it’s time to do a reality check to find out, among other things, (1) how far they have advanced on the road to their political nirvana, with Champika Ranawaka beating the drum for the boru bana of Ven. Sobitha and Ven. Rathana ; (2) how capable the UNP government is to take the Troika down the road to their nirvana and (3) what are their chances of at least getting somewhere near the Troika’s ultimate goal outlined in the Manifesto. The SLFP MPs – the majority in the House — do not come into the picture because they have been thrown into the margins with nothing to do but to twiddle their thumbs and munch President Sirisena’s hoppers from time to time.
Perhaps, the best way to test the progress is to evaluate the work of the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who, in the post-election period, is leading the Troika after grabbing the lion share of power. He is the point man who should be held responsible because, under the patronage of the two SLFP heavy-weights that matter now — CBK and Maithripala Sirisena – he has managed to corral UNPers into a minority government, promising to deliver nirvana within 100 days. Readers may remember that his uncle, JR Jayewardene vowed to attain nirvana in his life time after taking a shot or two whiskey a day. Now his nephew has promised to deliver the whole of nirvana to the people within 100 days which, he says, is coming round the corner.
One way of arriving at a rational and balanced judgment on the performance of the Wickremesinghe-led government is to collect evidence from reliable insiders who had gone through the mill. In this respect there is none better than Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, who was the translator of the Manifesto into English (he was a professor of English), and was also a part of the machinery responsible for the overthrow of the Rajapaksa regime. He even held a State Ministership in the government and then — then he quit in utter disgust! So he should know who’s in and who’s out and why? He should also be aware of the inner workings of those who seem to be on their way to Dante’s Hell than the promised nirvana. Besides, he comes with Oxford-Liberal leanings and his testimony should be treated with respect, more so because he is also the first cousin of the Prime Minister.
So consider first what he has to say about the key ministry of the Prime Minister – the engine that is supposed to be driving the state to political nirvana promised in the Manifesto. In his interview with the Daily Mirror he says bluntly: “Ranil’s Cabinet portfolio is absolute crackers! (Meaning: insane!). Policy planning, youth, cultural and women’s affairs and investment promotion-but no- one knows where reconciliation fits in. Some people think Ranil is in charge, some think its carried out through a presidential task force but nothing has been done. This government promised to have a ‘scientific’ Cabinet. But guess under which portfolio, the divisional and district secretariats are? When they should clearly be under public administration they are with the Fisheries Ministry!”
In an explanatory note to me he added: “The transference of Divisional and District Secretariats to the Home Affairs portfolio, which is combined with Fisheries, is ample evidence of his failure to plan in the interests of the country. “
My short response : Is Wickremesinghe building the nirvana promised by the Troika or is he going on a fishing expedition?
That is not all. Have a read of what Prof. Wijesinha has to say about the magic 100-day program – the ultimate test of the government run by Wickremesinghe. When Prof. Wijesinha was asked what he thinks about the 100-day programme, he replied: : “It’s a complete disaster because no-one is concerned about the programme. I have noted seven things we must implement before the expiration of 100-days. And there can be no compromises.”
In his hard-hitting interview with the Daily Mirror Prof. Wijesinha points the finger directly at his cousin, Wickremesinghe. He says: “One of Wickremesinghe’s problems is that he is trying to run everything. Look at his portfolios. You think any human being can do all that? This is exactly what happened in 2001. If he repeats the same mistakes, he will be playing straight into the hands of the Opposition. I think Wickremesinghe has difficulty in trusting able people.”
Prof. Wijesinha has hit the nail on the head. He has identified the paranoia that discombobulates Wickremesinghe. The primary instinct that drives him is his mistrust of anyone. This also explains his inability to be warm, easy-going and keeping everyone at arm’s length with an inane grin. His inability to relate to people also increases his insecurity. He is not only surrounded by some of his own people gunning for him, he is also surrounded by his own paranoid fears. He is his worst enemy. Prof. Wijesinha concluded that PM’s ministry is “crackers”. But a closer look will reveal that the man himself is crackers. On top of his infirmities he is also burdened with a load promises which he can’t deliver.
Together with CBK and Sirisena the Troika has taken the nation for a ride at the election promising the sun, moon and the stars which they are incapable of delivering. Only those who have gone crackers would believe that they could deliver within 100 days what the nation has failed to achieve from pre-colonial times.
What is most noticeable is the disturbingly erratic behavior of Wickremesinghe since he occupied (temporarily) the prime minister’s seat. His behaviour is more like that of a pocket Genghis Khan running berserk with bipolar disorder than a steady leader of a democracy steering its way rationally towards peace, reconciliation and stability. His unpredictable mood swings from highs to lows, and vice versa, are a sign of his not having a sound grasp of the realities needed to deal with the increasing momentum of the forces threatening to overwhelm him.
His sense of insecurity unnerved him and reached a new low when he was confronted with the unprecedented gathering at Nugegoda – a blow that sent him reeling. Shortly after that he went berserk threatening in particular the media that focused on the rise of the Nugegoda Man. Overnight he exploded into a hostile reaction that ran counter to the promised tolerance of a democratic regime which was marketed during the election as the foundation of “ya-ha-pala-naya” (good governance).
This malaise of being confounded by the rising political forces and the disorder arising from dysfunctional governance, highlighted by Prof. Wijesinha, is not confined to him alone. The “MY-3” regime, as a whole, is behaving erratically with the three main arms of the regime – 1. President’s wing 2. Prime Minister’s wing and 3 Chandrika Bandaranaike’s (CBK) wing – pulling in three idiosyncratic directions. The Nugegoda rising is only the external factor. But the increasing discontent and frustrations within a coalition of 47 entities (which is labeled as the National Unity government) and the mismanagement right across the administrative spectrum, identified so accurately by Prof. Wijesinha, are causing internal tensions which, in turn, are pressuring Wickremesinghe from diverse quarters, throwing him off balance.
His tendency to panic is seen in his unwarranted and unacceptable threat to Sinhala journalists and media owners. I just can’t believe that a son of Esmond Wickremesinghe, the media magnate who overturned Mrs. Bandaranaike’s government for attempting to take over Lake House, could ever threaten to raid media institutions with his mob (Batalanda-style) if they do not toe his line. It looks as if he has taken over the task of leading the mob in the absence of his late side-kick, Gonawila Sunil. Only a Prime Minister who has gone crackers would utter such vindictive vitriol against the media – an institution that was guaranteed absolute security in the Manifesto. Considering this unexpected volte face it is fair to ask whether the nation is heading towards “yaha-pala-naya” or towards Angoda.
This excessive reaction can only be a sign of a Prime Minister who has lost touch with reality. Ever since he became Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe has shown alarming signs of erratic behavior. Which other prime minister of the democratic world, for instance, would come out naming journalists who had commented adversely on him? Which president or vice president of International Democratic Union (IDU) would vow to strike out media owners from the stock market because their publications are supposed to have roused communal dissension – Wickremesinghe’s excuse for media suppression?
Not knowing how to respond to the formidable mass movement rising against him Wickremesinghe has latched on to the cheap and dangerous tactic of labeling anyone defending the nation as communalists. His knee-jerk reaction is to raid media institutions with his mob, he says. In other words. he is openly advocating mob rule and not “yaha-pala-naya”. Leaving that aside, will he also lead a mob to raid newspaper offices in Jaffna – the seething hot bed of communalism, demonizing the Sinhala-Buddhists day-in-day-out?
If his intention is to protect and preserve communal harmony why is he targeting only the media in the Sinhala south and turning a blind to the Tamil media which is oozing with anti-Sinhala communal hatred in each and every publication? Isn’t he aware that his proposed constitutional reforms, aimed mainly to appease the Tamil North, will end up like his futile CFA with Prabhakaran because the Tamil media, which has space only for demonizing the Sinhala-Buddhists, will sabotage his formula? Is he aware that the pulpit of the Catholic Church has been used uninhibitedly by the Tamil clerical hierarchy as the broadcasting station for anti-Sinhala-Buddhist hatred? Is he aware that the Jaffna University, which is funded by what they call “the Sinhala state”, has become the hot bed of anti-Sinhala-Buddhist indoctrination and activities?
Isn’t Wickremesinghe’s idea of promoting communal harmony similar to that of producing the sound of a clap with one hand? Or is his attempt to suppress the media in the south a part of his hidden agenda to whip the media bosses into line and through them prevent the journalists from challenging the legitimacy of his naked ambition to be the unelected prime minister of a minority government as long as he can?
Is he aware that the political culture of mono-ethnic extremism is ineradicably rooted in Jaffna soil? Jaffna never took to any humane ideology – socialism, liberalism, pluralism, pacifism, humanism etc., — other than Hindu casteism and Tamil racism. Prabhakaran is the inevitable manifestation of communal hatred fed to the Tamil community by successive generations of Tamil political leaders. Tamil communalism took a virulent turn when G. G. Poonnambalam launched his politics of percentages (50-50) demonizing the Sinhalese and denigrating the Mahawamsa.
Is Wickremesinghe aware that the first communal party was established in Jaffna in 1921 when Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam broke away from the Ceylon National Congress and formed the first communal organization called the Tamil Mahajana Sabhai? Is he aware that the Sinhalese did not go down that communal path initially and that S.W.R. D. Bandaranaike established the Sinhala Maha Sabha only in 1935 purely to counter the rabid racism of G. G. Ponnambalam?
An objective and deep analysis of the history of communalism will establish that Sinhala-Buddhist communalism was only a defensive reaction to the mono-ethnic extremism of the Tamil north. It is the rabid racists of the North who drove the Sinhala-Buddhists of the south into the arms of their extremists and counter-violence. It is Prabhakaran who turned the sleeping Sinhala-Buddhists into the best fighting forces against terrorism. It is the threat of separatism that has made the south resist any concessions to the north. It is the Tamil strategy of running to India that has raised the existential fears of the Sinhalese. So if Wickremesinghe has any political sense to analyze and work out remedies for reconciliation and peace he must first change the anti-Sinhala-Buddhist political culture of North. Neither he nor anyone else can succeed if the minorities continue to threaten the majority with their hatred.
Before raiding newspaper offices in the south Wickremesinghe, if he is really serious about communalism, must first lead his mob into Jaffna and raid the anti-Sinhala-Buddhist Tamil newspaper offices and establish his credentials as an even handed anti-communalist. After that he can come down to the south to carry on with his thugs in the south, if he is still among the living.