The Rajpal Abeynayake Column                     By Rajpal Abeynayake  

Breaking news: Balasingham and the beauty contest
The Tigers know how to ask for the moon and get it. From the throes of their suspended state (on the peace talks that is) the Tigers are making horrendous noises about the sad loss of Milinda Moragoda. Says Anton Balasingham that Milinda Moragoda is very important to the peace process, and that his threat to quit the talks over some misunderstanding of statements he made about America might mean disaster for the negotiations!

This and the Tiger's statement that the 'talks have been suspended because it will offer the government an opportunity to take stock of the situation' signifies the epitome of Tiger's politeness. Balasingham could easily apply for a Miss Manners contest and win hands down and skirt smoothed up.

The trick about the Tigers this time around is that there is a gloss in their statements that indicates, particularly to the watching world, watching from world capitals in particular in Europe, that there are oodles of sincerity that is left in them.

When Mark Tully (Sir Mark Tully, oops) was here a couple of months ago on a Commonwealth related media event, he said the press is becoming altogether too cynical and disruptive, in the attempt to break good stories and expose what is corrupt. My answer was that 'journalists are not in a beauty contest' and Mark Tully proceeded to quote me as a "Sri Lankan' who had said this to him, when he made his keynote address the next day at a conference. Says Mark Tully that 'journalists are not in an ugliness contest either.'

Journalists in the South now appear to be treating the subject of the suspension of talks by the Tigers with great beauty and with little ugliness as possible. For the most part they have not shredded the Doctor apart., (that's Balasingham, and if he doesn't have a doctorate that's nothing because even Citizen Perera of the peace NGO pretends he has a Doctorate) and they have put themselves, well, in a state of suspension, about he LTTE's suspension of talks.

Most of the embarrassment and ugliness for the Tigers that has come in the aftermath of the pullout form the talks, has not in fact come from journalists at all. It is the University Teachers on Human Rights who have drawn first blood, and they in their latest report say that businessmen in Jaffna are transferring their assets to Colombo fearing that the army will pull out of the peninsula. The University Teachers go on to state unequivocally that the Sri Lankan government has failed to protect the citizens of Jaffna from LTTE extortion LTTE abduction, and other LTTE actions.

Now, can that be interpreted to say that journalists in Colombo and in the 'South' in general are giving Balasingham and the Tigers the benefit of the doubt, while Tamils themselves are saying it as it is -- and asking that the government call the LTTE's bluff? In which case, Sri Lankan journalists -- Mark Tully please rest assured -- seem to be very much in a beauty contest.

Nalin de Silva -- not a journalist -- calls the Rupavahini the non national television in his latest comment, which of course proceeds to mince Balasingham and the rest of the LTTE pack to shreds. But, articles of his sort are clearly in the exception.

In many ways the South is not playing into the hands of the LTTE, by giving Balasingham the ammunition he needs to say that the Sinhalese are a bunch of incurable chauvinists. To that extent, Balasingham is being polite, the Sinhala polity by and large is being polite, and it seems the whole conflict has rather got gentrified.
The interesting if not important question is whether this 'gentrification' is just the gloss and lipstick of the moment, or whether it signifies a certain real ' maturity' that is being displayed by both sides to the conflict.

Does it mean that the boat-busting, talk-wrecking days of the Tigers are over - - and that the clumsy era of Sri Lankan government public relations is at a definite end? Does it also mean that Sri Lankan journalists are just about in the middle of a beauty contest, wielding their pens graciously, making an effort in the process of not offending that genteel anna with a terrible past, Balasingham?

If there is some 'maturity' that's developing in the 'process' (not the 'peace process' but the general process of relation between the LTTE and the government) it may be due to the fact that there is a motivation for the players to take things cautiously, and not allow 'irritations' to develop into explosions. But that's the charitable way of looking at it.

It may also be that both actors do not want to offend the 'process.'' They do not want to offend the great benefactors, who are looking at them with a sideward parental eye, from those places such as Norway, London, Geneva, Copenhagen, what have you? Grown up kids don't want to get into squabbles in front of their parents.

Ah, the psychology of it all! One gentleman versed in matters close to Freud more than Derrida, told me the other day that people see a psychological mother/father combination in Chadrika and Ranil. I thought forbid the thought, (seeing two kids as parents?) -- but no, he says, really, the national psyche sees a patriarchal and matriarchal symbol in Ranil and Chandrika respectively.

So who am I to argue with the experts, maybe that's how Balasingham and Wickremesinghe sees those parental figures who keep an eye on their charges from as far afield as Ottawa and Oslo? When they are around, is it that there is a studied gentility, and even ballsy Balasingham can no longer say boo?

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