Colombo Telegraph

Rattled Ranil Panics After Nugegoda: Summons Media Heads

By H. L. D. Mahindapala

H. L. D. Mahindapala

The 100-day programme of the “My-3-pala-naya” had no plans to encounter the Nugegoda rally. Not so soon, at least. They thought they could sail smoothly into the imagined “ideal country” located, of course, only in mythical Maithripala’s Manifesto. But within 40 days the “My-3-planners” were hit by a backlash that no new elected government had ever faced in electoral politics. It is Ranil Wickremesinghe who is feeling the heat of the rising events going against his political ambitions. It is his Prime Ministerial seat that is at stake in the coming general election. Maithripala Sirisena has no such problems because he is ensconced safely in his presidential seat.

It is this turn of events that has made Wickremesinghe nervous. He is showing signs of a panic-stricken, nervous wreck. He is hitting indiscriminately at anything that moves – from the Australian Prime Minister to editor’s who have criticized him. He has now summoned newspaper owners to meet him to keep the media in line with his future. He has even invited anti-Rajapaksa NGOs to this meeting, hoping to get their backing to suppress the press.

It is time that someone started feeding him with valium sandwiches morning, noon and night to calm his nerves. This champion of “free media” – remember how he packed off Paul Harris, the correspondent of Jane’s Weekly and Daily Telegraph for exposing his deal with Prabhakaran? – feels that the only way to control the oppositional forces rising against him is to muzzle the media. To do this he has to cook up a plausible argument. Having promised the electorate that the media will be free he cannot be seen to have gone back on his word to suppress the opposition. He has to provide an excuse. And the excuse is : media is rousing communal feelings!

So has anyone seen the Bodu Bala Sena, or even Champika Ranawaka who raved and ranted against the Muslims and Tamils in his recent tour of Australia just before the presidential election, whipping up communal feelings after January 8 in the south? I was in the Monash University audience listening to Ranawaka predicting the end of the Sinhalese with the Muslims and the Tamils taking over the nation within the next few decades with their powers of prolific procreation, money and scheming politics. Even he is silent as if his mouth is stuffed with pittu now on the communal issue. Only Wickremesinghe has begun to see Sinhala-Buddhist communalists rising in the newspaper columns. Obviously, he hasn’t read TamilNet and Tamils newspapers. He is quitehappy to look the other way about Jaffna jingoism because it does not pose a threat to him. Only the alleged communalism of the Sinhala papers is seen as a threat to communal harmony. Which is Wickremesinghe’s way of saying that raising Sinhala-Buddhist issue is a threat to him.

Apart from this, there are early signs of Wickremesinghe cracking under increasing pressure. As a control-freak, with an obsession to gather all power into his hands, the work load is bound to overwhelm him. There is no one else to blame except himself for painting himself into this tight corner. Suddenly everything has begun to get on top of him and unsettle him.

First, he is the unelected Prime Minister without a majority in the House. His position is hanging in the balance with his major political partners in the SLFP threatening to challenge his authority with a no-confidence motion against one of his most reliable partners, John Amaratunga. He wouldn’t have given Police powers to anyone other than whom he can trust. Remember Amaratunga is the loyal Police Minister who concocted the story of Army trying target Wickremesinghe soon after he signed the deal with Prabhakaran – a ruse to leak the names of the deadly and elite LRRP forces for the LTTE to target them?

Second the work load is throwing him into a dizzy spin, with pressures from various lobbies crowding him and pushing him into corners from which he cannot escape. His political IOUs are also coming home to roost. He is also struggling desperately to catch up with his 100-day time-table which he presented with President Maithripala Sirisena to the business community to impress that the “My-3” team can achieve what they promise. With each failure and falling behind his own time schedule he is beginning to look more like a lame duck than a dynamic reformer.

Third, cracks are developing within his own ranks and his partners and he does not how to prevent these exploding forces from running out of control.

Fourth, in his koka-tath-thai-laya Manifesto he has bitten more than what he can chew. The rosy optimism of delivering promises on time is fading by the day. Ven Sobitha is now batting on the sidelines promoting the idea of postponing the delivery date to two years.

Fifth, he wants to form a national government ONLY with him at the head, without giving too much power to the other parties, even though they are in the majority. His obsession with power together with his paranoia is compelling him to poke his fingers into minute details in the administration which is spinning beyond his control incrementally. It is impossible for him be at the top overseeing the big picture and micro-manage the details at the bottom simultaneously. Nor is he. at 65, that healthy or physically strong to carry that work

Sixth, his gimmickry of presenting a “seeni-bola” budget has come and gone with hardly any impact on the electorate. He has already lost two Ministers – Faizer Mustapaha and Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha (possibly). And counting. There is no new blood to give a shine to his regime. He has fallen back on the tired old fogeys that led to his fall the last time.

Seventh, he lacks the charisma of a leader who can win the confidence of the people or a credible mandate from the electorate. He is in a very vulnerable position of depending on manipulating a few ith-thas (pawns) at the top. He is now screaming his head off saying that he can reduce Mahinda Rajapaksa’s majority. Isn’t this another sign of his being on the verge of a nervous breakdown?

Last but not the least, an election is hanging over his head like a sword of Damocles and he knows that there will be hardly anyone to pick up his severed head.

His anti-Sinhala-Buddhist paranoia too is unsettling him. His first reaction is to summon Sinhala newspaper editors and accuse them of rousing communal feelings. He has blasted them as “suck-killi-yas who cleaned Mahinda Rajapaksa’s toilets”. Not stopping at that he has decided to have a go at the media owners. He aims to tighten his grip on the media from the top and summoned the newspaper owners.

The reality is that the media has been subdued sufficiently and the state media has been cowed down. The media that ttaked him aggressively when he was in the opposition has turned to play his kind of music. The state media, as per usual, has turned 360 degrees to be the Master’s voice. For instance, an NGO apparatchik like Luxman Gunasekera has returned to The Sunday Observer to resume his anti-Sinhala-Buddhist campaigns.

The nervous and paranoid politics of Wickremesinghe is revealed when he first blasted the Sinhala editors and then followed it up with summoning the newspaper owners on far-fetched charges of rousing communal passions without uttering one word about the most damaging racist attack coming from Northern journalists, academics, NGOs and politicos. The most provocative statement to disturb communal harmony was the anti-Sinhala resolution passed by the North Provincial Council resolution on February 10, 2015.

Not since the Vadukoddai Resolution was passed on May 14, 1976 has such a vicious, twisted, racist attack been unleashed by the North on the South. It is to the credit of the Sinhala-Buddhists that they have restrained themselves and not gone on the rampage. When the Tamil leadership passes a resolution projecting the entire Sinhala race as murderers of Tamils and accusing the entire leadership, including Wickremesinghe’s blood relatives, as genocidal barbarians, it was his prime duty, as the Prime Minister, to defend the nation and its great leaders.

Which prime minister in the world would not defend his/her nation against such a sweeping denigration of its image? When, for instance, Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake, in passing made a remark that people in Sri Lanka had not died of starvation like those in India. Indira Gandhi reacted furiously and Dudley, being the gentleman that he is, apologized in parliament explaining that he did not mean to denigrate or insult India.

Imagine, for instance, the reaction of India if any southern provincial council had passed a resolution condemning Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a genocidal murder for what he did in Gujerat? Whether true or not, is making such an accusation in sensitive times conducive for reconciliation or easing the tensions between Indian and Sri Lanka? So is NPC resolution aimed at promoting reconciliation? Or is directed at confronting the Sinhala-Buddhists with the sole aim of destroying communal harmony? Isn’t Wickremesinghe’s silence a deliberate act of giving consent and encouragement to the anti-Sinhala-Buddhists who are vilifying the nation for their political gain?

If the Sinhala-Buddhists were the kind of genocidal killers as stated in C.V. Wigneswaran’s resolution would they have rescued 300,000 Tamils fleeing from the Tamil Pol Pot? Would 23,000 Sinhala soldiers have sacrificed their lives to liberate the Tamil children from the gulags of Tamil Boko Haram? Why has Wickremesinghe been silent on this internationally significant and nationally sensitive issue? And why was he quick to turn his wrath on Sinhala editors and threaten newspaper owners by summoning them? As opposed to this, why is he purring like a pussy cat in the lap of Wigneswaran and the NPC? Is it because he got their votes to get into power? Is Wickremesinghe appointed to play the role of the Prime Minister or Prime Traitor?

Please note that the NPC resolution was sent to the UNHRC, demanding action against Sri Lanka based on the accusations listed in resolution. Any Prime Minister, who has any respect for his people, would react forcefully, being aware of the serious consequences that would flow from such grossly distorted and concocted lies. The silence of a prime minister on a vital issue like this is totally unacceptable by those people yearning for peace and reconciliation.

At a time when Western leaders in liberal democracies are demanding from minorities threatening the values of the majorities total acceptance of the national way of life, language, and laws Wickremesinghe has no right to be silent when “his nation” (I hope he agrees?) is condemned as a genocidal state by another community which has benefited most from sharing the riches, benevolence and welfare programs of the country.

It is inconceivable that Prime Minister Wickremesinghe can remain silent on a critical issue like this. His silence can only mean that his uncles and grand-relatives were all murderous barbarians as stated in the resolution. Besides, Wickremesinghe too was a part of the leadership that is accused of being genocidal murderers. The only missing part in the NPC resolution are the atrocities committed at Batalanda. Could this be the reason why he is silent on the NPC resolution? Is it with this record that Wickremesinghe proposes to contest Mahinda Rajapaksa in the coming election and reduce his vote by five million?

More importantly, will the media owners cave in and go along with Wickremesinghe? They have a duty by the readers and not by Wickremesinghe who does not even have a mandate from the people, or parliament to be the prime minister. To counter Wickremesinghe’s media offensive they can politely hand over a copy of the “My-3”s” Manifesto highlighting the segment on free media. They can even go further and cite the rules of the International Democratic Union of which he is a Vice President.

The most incontrovertible argument against Wickremesinghe’s demand for compliance on the grounds of communal harmony comes from the West which is waging a life-and-death battle to defend free media against Islamic fundamentalists. The right of the media to express freely, even when communal harmony is threatened, is exemplified in the case of Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine which has inflamed passions on both sides. Using the Charlie Hebdo stand to defend media freedom, even above communal harmony, the media owners should unmask Wickremesinghe’s fake hijab of taking cover behind communal harmony. He should not be allowed to import ISIS fanaticism duty free. He cannot promote communal harmony by imposing his dictatorship only on the journalists of the south. He must begin with the NPC politicians first. He must begin first by asking the NPC to apologize to the nation and withdraw its resolution. Communal harmony is a two-way process. It cannot be attained by suppressing the media of the south.

The media owners should not tolerate Wickremesinghe’s high-handed action to read the riot act to them under the pretext of protecting communal harmony. That is a bogus issue, as pointed out earlier. They must attend and listen to him carefully. If Wickremesinghe threatens them they can walk out. For once, they can be guaranteed that the people will be with them.

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