Come next week the Commonwealth road show will hit town and Heads of Governments will be dime a dozen on the streets of Colombo.  Her Britannic Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will not be attending but, in her stead, her great, great grandmother Queen Victoria, re-moulded in alabaster, and her son Charles, resurgent in the flesh, [...]


Unholy quest for the C’wealth grail


Come next week the Commonwealth road show will hit town and Heads of Governments will be dime a dozen on the streets of Colombo.  Her Britannic Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will not be attending but, in her stead, her great, great grandmother Queen Victoria, re-moulded in alabaster, and her son Charles, resurgent in the flesh, will be present.

Victoria’s revamped statute will be placed at the rear of the Colombo Museum facing the park which earlier carried her name until Lanka’s own Queen Vihara Maha Devi dislodged her from her pedestal: whilst the Prince Of Wales will be installed at Tintagel, the Colombo home of former publicly anti-imperialistic but privately British doting Prime Minister of Lanka, the Oxford educated S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike who named his town residence after the birthplace of Britain’s legendary King Arthur.

As the Queen’s proxy, Prince Charles, will be the Head of the Commonwealth summit but who will hold the Court of Camelot? Who will be the chivalrous Knights who will take their seats at the round table as one amongst equals and say, in verbiage appropriate to the task, what progress they have made in their quest for the Holy Grail, the vision dreamt of by the founding fathers of the commonwealth 64 years ago and contained in the Commonwealth charter: the unreachable ideals of an utopian world.

And who better to demonstrate that these ideals, these lofty principals — that the potential of and need for a Commonwealth as a compelling force for good and as an effective network for cooperation and for promoting development; that the Commonwealth way is to seek consensus through consultation and the sharing of experience, especially through practical cooperation, and that the member states affirm the core Commonwealth principles of consensus and common action, mutual respect, inclusiveness, transparency, accountability, legitimacy, and responsiveness — are not worth the paper it is written on than by its founding nation Britain in whose interest it was formed, in whose interest it continues, for whose expediency it is now being traduced by its present political leaders.

Like the bigoted Bodu Bala Sena flouting the very precepts of the Buddha in the name of protecting Buddhism, so is Britain going against the very grain of the Commonwealth “way” in the name of protecting the Commonwealth ideals. Instead of consensus there is badgering, instead of mutual respect there is intolerance to sympathise with and understand another’s circumstances, instead of cooperation there is cannibalisation and the ‘compelling force’ seems to be to pounce upon a single, weak, wounded member over a transgression committed not out of choice, disembowel him and flaunt his entrails to the world holding oneself as the Cleanser of the Commonwealth.

Unlike the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations is not the world’s policeman and never acted as such until recently. And as far as the United States go, the attitude towards the club, since it is not a part of it, is that the Commonwealth Club does not exist or if it does it is insignificant. Perhaps more golf teeing Americans would know of the existence of the Royal Colombo Golf Club than of the Commonwealth Club. 

When the British Prime Minister David Cameron lands in Colombo next week with his baggage of soiled clothes to launder here in public and with a quiver of arrows slung over his shoulder what will strike him first and strike him most will not be the warm sunshine he had travelled so far to bask in but the icy cold frosty reception he will receive from the host nation.

For he comes not with the cheer and open mind of his counterparts in the antipodes the Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop team who, as Australian Foreign Minister Bishop said on Thursday, were of the view that “Commonwealth countries should work with Sri Lanka to meet the challenges that they face and certainly will be encouraging countries to do that.” Australian Prime Minister Abbot will thus be warmly welcomed when he arrives as the current chairman to pass the relay baton to Sri Lanka. That is the spirit of the Commonwealth. 

But no so for Britain’s Prime Minister. He has queered his pitch even before putting his foot on it. In the face of opposition calls to boycott the summit and in the presence of his guest the still youthful looking Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi, David Cameron has, perhaps, suffering delusions of grandeur, arrogated to himself the role of David in a David and Goliath replay and declared his determination to meet the Lankan President face to face and do some ‘tough talking’ to drive his concern over human rights straight home.

Evidently he has realised that the days of Britain’s gunboat diplomacy, where the presence of a single naval vessel off a country’s coast sufficed to bring it to heel, are over, but apparently he still harbors fantasies of Britain’s far flung might and believes that the presence of the British Prime Minister will be more than enough to make a foreign Head of a Third World Nation quail in his boots and go on bended knees before the imperial personage in his own independent, sovereign homeland.
He has made a social blunder of the worst order, unbecoming of a gentleman from a nation boasting civility and culture. One does not accept an invite to attend a function at a person’s home and then rush to tell all and sundry how one is going to give the host a right royal thrashing whilst enjoying his hospitality. Neither does a statesman nor a mediator announce in public and in advance what he intends to do and thus forewarn the opponent to be armed to meet the challenge. With his failure to exercise discretion as the better part of valour, the chances are that his threat to talk tough will turn out hollow.

Firstly it should be noted that he had no choice but to attend the summit. With his Queen as the head of Commonwealth represented by Prince Charles present in Colombo, it would have been awkward if the British Prime Minister had boycotted the affair. Secondly it should be noted that only the Queen enjoys life tenure as the titular head of the Commonwealth. Eventually when Charles assumes the British Throne the title Head of the Commonwealth will not automatically pass onto him or to his successors. The next Head will be decided by the members. This is Charles’s first attendance as the head by proxy and presumably he is staking his claim to be the Queen’s successor. For all the glib talk of each member being equal, Britain’s intention is to be the first amongst equals and only her monarch being the Head of the Commonweal of Nations will give her that prestige.

Both the Prince and Cameron will have to do a lot of canvassing among members to realise this British interest. Whether one likes it or not, President Mahinda Rajapaksa will be the chairman of the Commonwealth for the next two years and will possess great say in this matter. Added to this his assiduous cultivation of African leaders in the recent years have endowed him great influence over the African Bloc. He may well turn out to be the man to create the consensus necessary amongst the members to agree to appoint Prince Charles as the Head of the Club should a sudden vacancy occur during the two year period thus ensuring smooth transition and thus the British Government may indeed have to turn to him for help. In such a case do you first threaten a man with a good walloping before asking him a personal favour?

Cameron’s public threat of tough talking has also alerted the Lankan Foreign Ministry. The day after his indiscretion was reported the Foreign Minister issued a statement stating that the Commonwealth Summit was not the forum to discuss country specifics and thus the British will have to overcome this objection to do any tough talking on Lanka’s ‘country specific ‘human rights.

The inordinate delay in indicting and commencing the trial of those suspected in the killing of a British tourist in Tangalle two years ago is also a matter expected to be taken up by the British PM. However the Foreign Office, holding that attack is the best defense, has publicly indicated that it will stoop to any extent to ward off the question. It intends, unashamedly to meet the British demand for action on a criminal case of murder that has been delayed for over two years with a counter demand namely to explain in detail the surrounding events and the state of the investigation into the murder of a twenty five year old Lankan in England four days ago.

Finally, such is the naivety of the immature Mr. Cameron that he believes a face to face meeting with the Lankan President will do the trick. Mr. Cameron is 46 years old, has been a member of the House of Commons for only ten years and Prime Minister for three years.

The Lankan President entered Parliament when Cameron was hardly out of his bassinet and has spent 43 years running the gauntlet 35 as a MP and 8 years as the President of Lanka. Despite Mr. Cameron’s arrogant hopes of a David – Goliath ending to his planned ‘tough talking’ session, the much experienced Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, being the ever courteous and entertaining host he is, will, holding the Court of Camelot, no doubt, have the fledgling for breakfast.

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