As government ministers, its MPs and even its provincial members greet with glee the heaven sent news that their travels abroad at public expense will no longer face condemnation by the UNP opposition in Parliament, cast your glance this Sunday morn at the elevated figure of the newly sanctified John Amaratunga at the altar receiving [...]


John the Dualist: Patron saint of junket MPs


As government ministers, its MPs and even its provincial members greet with glee the heaven sent news that their travels abroad at public expense will no longer face condemnation by the UNP opposition in Parliament, cast your glance this Sunday morn at the elevated figure of the newly sanctified John Amaratunga at the altar receiving their worship and glowing in their adoration as the Patron Saint of the Freebie MPs.

And what’s the cause for this great rejoicing? And why the elevation to the High Altar?

Last week’s request by the Opposition Chief Whip, the 74-year-old John Amaratunga, to the President, and graciously granted without much ado, to take him along on his visit to Palestine, Jordan and Israel to pray in the grotto of the Nativity Church of Bethlehem and to see other religious sites in the land of the chosen seed where Jesus was born, silenced in one short benediction, any more lambasts from the UNP against Government members jet setting with their entourages on the public purse.

John Amaratunga: Silenced

To hit the last nail on the UNP coffin of future protests over high flying government politicos travel expense was the UNP spokesman Gayantha Karunatillake MP’s statement that Mr. Amaratunga had sought permission from the UNP before he tagged along with the presidential delegation and the party had granted him permission to do so.

This sanctioning by the UNP Leadership, akin to a papal dispensation granted to a Catholic, of the individual actions of Mr. Amaratunga though private by nature, public by circumstances, has now effectively bound the UNP membership collectively to remain gagged for it has lost its moral authority to voice its opposition upon the subject of extravagant travel expenses. For how can they speak against the crime of squander mania when they themselves are all jointly in the dock accused of the same offence, of aiding and abetting in the criminal waste of Lanka’s hard earned wealth?

And that’s not all. The UNP leadership by its grant of approval has also, along with its coffined protests, effectively buried the redundant whip. Once used to lash its own members when straying beyond the parameters of discipline its usefulness to deliver the cat-o’-nine-tails has ceased. What corporal punishment can be meted to any truant MP anymore with any justification when the party’s chief monitor himself had been caught flouting collage traditions and confessed to flirting with the rival camp for which he had been given the official green light to go ahead instead of the instant sack and shown the door.

Mr. Amaratunga’s need for prayer is not in question. That is his untrammelled right and his private business. Even as a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love in springtime, it is only natural that Mr. Amaratunga’s winter years should gravitate his moods to dwell on the sublime nature of religion and envelope him with a melancholy desire to tread the Holy Land and imbibe its ambiance.

Had he done so with his private means it would have been a just reward for a worthy life as a good Christian; and hosannas would have been sung for him by choirs of angels hailing his praises to have been blessed from above with the good fortune to have walked the land where Jesus trod.

But he didn’t. He used public money when he had no conceivable right to do so. To indulge in Holy Communion privately he invited himself to pick the nation’s coffers publicly. And in the process he compromised his soul and placed his party’s position in further peril. And opened the floodgates and left it open for others to follow suit.

For aren’t there other devout Catholics in the UNP ranks who wish they could do the same? The Sistine Chapel, perhaps; Lourdes for a miracle or, if one is of the Anglican denomination, why not the Canterbury Church when the President visits London next time? Or for that matter what about the good Buddhists? Doesn’t Tissa Attanayake or Karu Jayasuriya, dream of visiting Lumbini, Saranath, Kusinara in the far off plains of Northern India and at Buddha Gaya to worship the sacred Bo tree that gave shelter to Gautama the Buddha?

Or aren’t there any good Muslim MPs, like the new UNP Chairman Kabir Hasheem for instance, whose daily prayer must surely be to perform the Hajj at Makkah and receive the Al Haj title to his name? Or ardent Hindu UNP MPs who wish to offer pooja at the kovils of Chidambaram, Thiruchendrum, Tirupathi and, at Benares, bathe in the sacred waters of the Ganges and cleanse away their sins and purify their souls?

And, not to forget the religion-less JVP MPs, Tilvin de Silva or Anura Dissanayake who may harbour a secret desire of their own: to visit Mother Russia’s Red Square and place a red wreath at the sacred Lenin mausoleum that entombs the Communist leader’s mortal remains along with his failed Marxist vision. And what of those MPs in the majority of the UNP who zealously believe that God is everywhere and yearn to visit every swinging western capital and each exotic eastern land to discover the many manifestations of the Supreme Being? All of them may have already visited these sacred places but wouldn’t they jump at the opportunity to do so again given half the chance if tempted by the offer of free rides extended by government largesse, paid for by the public?

However noble the intention, however hallowed the purpose of the visit is, there is always a price tag. Like nations having no friends but only permanent interests, a political party and its members cannot afford the luxury of friendships when the interests of the public they represent are paramount. It is not to be compromised; it is not to be diluted for personal gain, the people’s mandate given on trust must not be prostituted for personal salvation, be it spiritual or worldly. For only those beholden to no one can act independently and truly speak on the people’s behalf without fear or shame.

To take the instant case, can John Amaratunga hereafter speak of government corruption and wastage and act to defeat the Government come election time when he is a prisoner of the Government’s largesse? Would the enormous gratitude he must feel as a good Christian towards the President who graciously granted him his solicited favour of saying his prayers in a revered Bethlehem church, inhibit him from acting or speaking against him in the slightest? Would his words ever again ring with authority and command his audience to listen with respect or be received with contempt as those made by a remorseless ingrate who has the brazen audacity to grovel without shame and then deplore without scruple?

It is however sad to note that what may be excused in a young buck in his salad days as an instance of being green in judgment, takes a different shade when committed by an old stag well past his prime. In a world turned topsy-turvy with evil reigning supreme, it is a reflection of the god forsaken times we live in that men like UNP’s senior member Amaratunga and SLFP’s senior Prime Minister Jayaratne have, each in their own manner, been brought to this sorry pass, to climb the Calvary and be crucified in the twilight of their lives. But sentimentality has no place in the ruthless world of politics and errors of judgment cannot be condoned, except to say it seems it is the relatively good who get exposed and thrown to the wolves while the truly evil are left to thrive unhindered, left to enjoy the spoils of their evil unhampered.

Mr. Amaratunga. who in December, year before last, demanded from the Speaker that the Parliamentary canteen must serve him pork for lunch every day, seems to have made a real pig’s breakfast out of his sojourn in Israel; and as such his continuing value to the UNP must be evaluated to determine his fitness to hold membership of the party. The mere fact that he informed the UNP leadership and received their blessings does not absolve him from being a turncoat. If he has not considered his position by the time this edition hits the streets he should consider it.

Ranil Wickremesinghe and the Leadership Council, too, must do some soul searching to find out what led them to grant Mr. Amaratunga permission. Would they have done so if, for instance, Sajith Premadasa had made a similar request to visit Buddha Gaya as a self invited guest of the President?

The UNP should seriously consider whether its policy of praying with the Government and sipping coffee with the President, exiling grassroots crowd pullers like popular Sajith Premadasa to the backwaters and, in the process, martyring insignificant southern provincial councilors and providing the scene for them to ride shot gun on the streets are the inspiring stuff that will move a nation to vote the UNP in to power in this year of elections.

John Amaratunga will, no doubt, have his place reserved for him in Heaven. As far as his earthly seat in the UNP is concerned, whether it will be still kept warn for him is yet to be seen. But even if it is not, this one time Arch Angel of the UNP will find all is not lost, that the happy Elysian Fields are found lying beyond the well of Parliament beckoning him to come savour divine nectar and sup ambrosia insatiate.

And, in the light of this new development, what can be said of the UNPs election prospects? Given the willingness of the party’s leadership to readily approve and bless the party’s chief whip’s decision to cross the party divide in pursuit of gaining on bended knees personal benefits from the Government in flagrant violation of the basic rules and norms of any self respecting political party, the only certainty that can be foretold for the UNP as a whole and the National Leader in particular is that the only place reserved will be the old familiar and well used seats in the unforgettable ranks of the toadying opposition and there to live by and remain true to the party tenet that it is far better to reign as Lamka’s Opposition than to serve her people as the Government.

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