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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 110

How national is the “National” Congress?

H. L. D. Mahindapala

The declared political objectives of Thamilselvam, the political head of the Tamil Tigers, and that of Ranil Wickremesinghe, the head of the UNP, dovetail into a neat tight fit that it is too striking to be ignored.

Thamilselvam says that the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) should go back to the failed Ceasefire Agreement (CFA). Ranil Wickremesinghe, the co-author of the CFA, says ditto. Thamilselvam downgrades the victory of the Security forces in the east. Ranil Wickremesinghe goes even further and runs down the Thoppigala victory as a futile capture of a piece of jungle.

Thamilselvam says stop the Security Forces from advancing into the Vanni. Ranil Wickremesinghe says ditto. Thamilselvam and his agents go round the world denigrating GOSL. Ranil Wickremesinghe parrots Thamilselvam’s accusations without missing a dot in the “i” or the cross in the “t”.

Thamilselvam raises human rights issues because he finds it to be the only weapon available to hit the GOSL now that the Tigers are on the defensive militarily. Ranil Wickremesinghe too echoes Thamilselvam’s litany of complaints. Thamilselvam is insisting that the unitary state should be dissolved and a new constitution of power-sharing with the Tamil Tigers should be put in its place. Ranil Wickremesinghe agrees vociferously and insists on “asymmetrical” devolution of power, meaning the legalizing of separatist borders with the Tamil Tigers in command of the north and the east. Thamilselvam says stop aid to Sri Lanka and Ranil Wickremesinghe not only says ditto but threatens not to pay any loans back. And, last but not the least, Thamilselvam is bent on overthrowing the Mahinda Rajapakse government urgently to save their skin. Ranil Wickremesinghe too is desperately seeking ways and means of overthrowing this GOSL which is the only way to save the skin of Thamilselvam.

This visible trend makes it obvious that both are political twins acting in tandem like Tweedledum and Tweedledee. In other words, if two creatures, as the saying goes, walk like a duck, talk like duck, swim like a duck and even plot their course like a duck what are they but inseparable ducks? The commonalities they share, which certainly can’t be a mere coincidence, make it pretty plain that Wickremesinghe is the proxy of Thamilselvam ever ready to justify every demand of the Tamil Tigers. He has turned out to be the voice of Thamilselvam giving respectability to the outrageous demands of the Tamil separatists.

Wickremesinghe is more than a copy cat imitation of Thamilselvam. He is trying to be more Thamilselvam than Thamilselvam himself. This is the new spectre that is haunting the Sri Lankan political scene.

All this and many more lead to the obvious question: Since the political agenda of the “National” Congress and that of Thamilselvam are agreed on destroying the nation as we all know it, how valid is the claim of the new alliance to be a National Congress? By definition, a National Congress should aim at defending and protecting the nation. No institution can call itself to be a “National” if it adopts the political agenda of the nation’s enemy. So what justification is there for Ranil-Mangala combination to be called a National Congress even remotely?

That apart, the formation of the “National” Congress, coming as it does at this point of time, point decisively to the new political configuration. Its political actors, the getting together of former enemies, its overall composition, its political agenda and its national and international manipulations constitute a manifestation of the two political forces divided radically on the future course of the nation: 1) the grass root forces led by President Mahinda Rajapakse from the south and 2) the Colombo-based elite led by the pro-Western and anti-national Chandrika Kumaratunga and Wickremesinghe.

This realignment of forces was, in a sense, inevitable. Waiting in the shadows is Chandrika Bandaranaike, the pretentious leader who left the presidential office as the most disastrous political figure of the nation. Despite denial and protestations she is waiting in the wings to take over the leadership once again, even if it means climbing over the dead body of Wickremesinghe as she did once before. It’s only a matter of time before she declares her hand fully. In all this, there is a touch of the elitist gang getting together to oust what they consider to be the interloper who is usurping their right to rule. The current power struggle evokes memories of the Kurunduwatte gang going berserk maneuvering with the Indian High Commission and other Western powers to overthrow President Ranasinghe Premadasa who came from Kehelwatte.

To grasp the undercurrents of the new political alliance it is necessary to go back to August 16, 2007. The combination of all the key political operators in this new alliance came together on this day at Habarana Lodge. This location gave the leading political operators a fairly safe place away from the limelight. Though the mainstream media missed it a local website reported the event in some detail.

Of course, it was not projected as a major political event. It was reported in a humdrum, matter-of-fact manner of a meeting of some odd business enterprise to produce a newspaper. This is how it was reported: “The Leader and Mawbima newspaper institutes are preparing to join to publish two dailies and two weekend newspapers in Sinhala and English languages.

“A discussion was held in this regard on August 16th at 'Habarana Lodge' with the participation of Tiran Alles, the owner of the Standard Newspaper Publishers, Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickramathunga on behalf of Leader Publications, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickramasinghe and SLFP - People's Wing Convener Mangala Samaraweera.

“The joint company discussed to publish 'Mawbima' Sinahala daily, Morning Leader English daily, 'Irudina' Sinhala weekend newspaper and Sunday Leader English newspaper.

“The Standard Newspaper Publishers will suspend publishing The Standard and the editorial will be attached to Morning Leader daily. Discussions went on to utilize the Leader office in Rathmalana as the editorial office of all the newspapers. Lankadeepa 'Guruda Wigrahaya' writer Upul Joseph Fernando's name was discussed as the news director and the political columnist of the Sinhala newspaper.

“A decisive meeting pertaining to the entrance to the media world as a new institute was held in Colombo yesterday (19) and Tiran Alles, Ranil Wickramasinghe, Rakhitha Jayawardhana and Lasantha Wickramathunga participated in it. Tiran Alles is to act as the Chairman of the joint company while Lal Wickramathunga will hold the post of Managing Director.

“Reportedly, the Sinhala and English dailies are to be published by the next month.” (LeN, 2007 August 20, 5.20 PM)

Well, on the surface of it everything seems above board. It also sounds like any other business meeting except that the political figures involved in it (including Lasantha Wickramatunga, the active politician who doubles up as the editor of the Sunday Leader) do not give any promise of political bliss in the days ahead. Wickremesinghe, Mangala Samaraweera, Lasantha Wickramatunga and Tiran Alles are all birds of a feather who flocked together at Habarana Lodge with a common political agenda. The meeting was not just to publish newspapers but to coalesce as the new political configuration that would wage the coming battles ahead to topple the Mahinda Rajapakse government.

Their tool, of course, will be the newspapers. This means that all the resources of the pro-Ranil Wickremesinghe Leader Publications, the Standard Newspaper Publishers of Mangala Samaraweera and Tiran Alles will join forces to go on the offensive against the Mahinda Rajapakse government. This coalition can also expect the indirect support of the right-of-centre Wijeya Group of Newspapers, leaving only the left-of-centre Upali Group of Newspapers in the private sector media to extend conditional support to the Mahinda Rajapakse – and that too only on the major national crisis which is fair enough. The Nation is striving precariously to perch somewhere on the fence but when it comes to the crunch it is expected to throw its weight behind the opposition. This leaves the state media as the only effective counter to the offensive that will be launched by the new political alliance.

The Habarana Lodge meeting sealed the composition of the new political configuration. Not surprisingly, they share the common ideology of “Thamilselvamification” of oppositional politics. The addition of Chandrika Kumaratunga to this combination completes the “Thamilselvanmification” of the “National” Congress. Chandrika, her proxy, Mangala and her erstwhile political enemy, Wickremesinghe, all share in common the political agenda of producing a constitutional mongrel by mating P-TOMS with CFA. Chandrika, it will be remembered, told TIME that she had offered the north and the east to Velupillai Prabhakaran for ten years. Her P-TOMS is a written variation of that offer. Wickremesinghe, not to be outdone, made the same offer with international guarantees to Prabhakaran. The nation was saved by Prabhakaran scuttling these offers.

Before proceeding any further it is necessary to focus on the role of Lasantha Wickrematunga in oppositional politics – a role that has been underplayed. In fact, he is known in UNP and journalistic circles cynically as the Leader of Opposition. He is a very able journalist with a flair for investigative journalism. UNPers are quite certain that Ranil Wickremesinghe would have faded into the limbo of forgotten things if not for his friend, Wickrematunga who had kept the moribund Wickremesinghe alive by playing the role of the opposition in his Sunday Leader. He is also known to feed the political line daily to Wickremesinghe on key issues which the unimaginative and pedestrian Wickremesinghe follows obediently.

Of course, Wickrematunga has been rewarded by Wickremesinghe in many ways, one of which was to appoint him as a delegate to the Phuket talks in Thailand where he struck up a relationship with Anton Balasingham. Wickrematugna became an unabashed defender of Wickremesinghe and Balasingham, compromising his position as a journalist who keeps his distance from the politicians to maintain objectivity and integrity.

In Sri Lanka this is almost an elusive and unattainable goal. I remember the taciturn Leslie Gunawardena, the towering Trotskyite, introducing a whole lot of us to a visiting delegate from the Paris-based Fourth International at the short-lived restaurant of Reggie Perera, Sandella, saying: “Meet the Sri Lankan journalists who are actually politicians, everyone of them!”

Wickrematunga, however, is different in that he has crossed the line into active politics, plotting and planning with them to be the power behind the throne. He is unscrupulous to the point of writing the identical political script both for his political masters/allies and his newspaper. This gives him the advantage of making news out of his politics. The political Wickrematunga meets in the journalist Wickrematunga and the two are so indistinguishable that neither knows whether he is a politician or a journalist.

It is also not uncommon for him to expose Mangala Samaraweera one day as a voyeur of gay porno in a Singaporean hotel at public expense and the next day to join him at Habarana Lodge to plot against the elected government of the day. He is playing the same game as the MPs who cross-over for personal gains – a fact that he never fails to denounce in his editorials.

More than all these factors, he fits in like a glove into the current political agenda of “Thamilselvamification” of oppositional politics. Besides, after hammering Chandrika Kumaratunga routinely to boost the political fortunes of his mate, Wickremesinghe, he is now cozying up to Chandrika and Mangala in the hope of advancing the political chances of Ranil.

Wickrematunga is the fourth pillar in the shaky quadrangle joined only by the common agenda of reversing the trends that began with Mavil Aru and ended in Thoppigala. The string of victories that began with Mavil Aru has serious political implications for the peace process in the future. According to the program of the NGOs, the international community and, of course, Thamilselvam any future negotiations depends on reversing the new phase of politics that began with Thoppigala.

But Chandrika and Ranil are locked into the post-Thoppigala phase of politics. Any move in the direction of reversing would be playing with fire, not to mention a backlash from the Security Forces. Thoppigala nullified the ISGA-CFA politics. There is no way the Anti-National Congress can reverse the post-Thoppigala politics without courting mass reactions. They will try to ram their political formulas down the throats of the people. But the post-Indo-Sri Lanka agreement or the post-CFA deal indicate that the “National” Congress is not likely to succeed in pushing politics of appeasement after Thoppigala.

As opposed to this combination of anti-national forces there are the traditional grass root forces led by the SLFP, JVP, JHU and other political allies. From now on it will be a straightforward battle between the grass root and the alien forces. The battle lines are clear. The Colombo-based elitist Bandaranaike-Wickremesinghe duo vs. the Ruhuna-based Mahinda Rajapakse, rising from the grassroots, will be fighting it out in the days ahead. Mangala Samaraweera will be on the sidelines playing the role he played behind the scenes in tying up alliances with valuable political allies to prop up his leader. In the last election he tied up with the left-wing JVP to score a victory for Mahinda Rajapakse. In the coming elections he has tied up with the right-wing UNP hoping to make Chandrika the next prime minister – the only political position that could make the “Queen of Thieves” happy.

The two camps are now neatly defined. There is the anti-Sinhala-Buddhist camp led by Wickremesinghe who had Talibanized the UNP headquarters by removing every symbol and vestige of Buddhism in its precincts. He is joined by Chandrika who is now harboring ambitions of becoming the next prime minister by undercutting Wickremesinghe at the right time with the help of her “chuck golaya” Samaraweera. When the time comes the struggle for power between Chandrika and Wickremesinghe will be fierce as it was before when she sacked him unceremoniously.

Wickremesinghe has already given up the UNP symbol, the No.2 position to Samaraweera denying the long-standing UNP stalwarts their due place as deputy, a substantial share of ministerial portfolios, and the dominant position of the UNP as political force by making it the subservient partner in the “National” Congress. These are signs of a desperate politician and not a man of destiny with a vision to guide himself and the nation into a positive future.

The way events are unfolding it is safe to assume that the UNP will be left only with Wickremesinghe and Wickrematunga. Short-sighted Wickremesinghe is letting his UNP loyalists to cross-over and swinging violently to other extreme of embracing his enemies of yesteryear. He is now relying on Chandrika and Prabhakaran – the two people who pulled the rug under his feet. Chandrika undercut him when he was sharing power with her as prime minister and Prabhakaran did it when he was hoping to grab power as president. Isn’t history reorganizing in its own convoluted way to repeat itself with the sole purpose of crushing Wickremesinghe once again?

The initial signs are that Wickremesinghe has been reduced already to the level of a junior partner in his “National” Congress. He may have illusions of being the dominant partner but the wily way in which Chandrika is moving in, like the camel into the Arab’s tent, does not augur well for Wickremesinghe’s future. The current lovey-dovey relationship will evaporate once Chandrika begins to assert herself. She did that to Mahinda Rajapakse and she would have no qualms of doing it to “Thamil” Wickremesinghe all over again.

Incidentally, if this is how things are shaping up in the period that is supposed to be the best astrological phase for Wickremesinghe what is there in store for him once the favourable stars move away from him like the disillusioned UNPers? Each gaffe he makes (Basil saranam …), each false moves he makes (attacking the sangha), each disastrous political alliance he makes, and each Thamilselvam agenda he picks, each abandonment of the grass root forces, drags him deeper and deeper into the only known yoga of his birth – the paraja yoga.

Of course, all Sri Lankans must be thankful to the stars under which Wickremesinghe was born because it is the next best thing that would save the nation since Don Juan Dharmapala, the anti-Sinhala-Buddhist traitor, was buried in Portugal

- Asian Tribune -

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